NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

April 27, 2013

Bird walk encounters many visitors

Words on Birds
Steve Grinley

---- — Last Sunday’s bird walk was a treat for the nine people that attended. The spring onshore winds were keeping Plum Island quiet the previous week, so I decided to head inland. We started at a local Newburyport “secret” spot where a baby great horned owl was sitting on the nest.

Close scope views revealed the down covering much of the young bird, but more feathers had come in since I had last seen it. The adult bird was being harassed by crows in a nearby tree, so we were able to get great scope views of her as well. Our intent was to head to West Newbury for warblers and kinglets, but before we could get back into the cars, I could hear a ruby crowned kinglet singing nearby. We ended up spending another 20 minutes there, having excellent views of both ruby-crowned and golden-crowned kinglets, red-breasted nuthatches, tufted titmice and chickadees.

We drove out Scotland Road in Newbury and stopped at the Jodrey-Soucy Platform overlooking the Common Pastures. We had seen a sandhill crane there the day before, but had no luck on this trip. We did see a pair of blue-winged teal hunkered down in the wet grass. The male’s white crescent against his blue head shone in the sunlight. A red-tailed hawk and a turkey vulture soared nearby. We proceeded to Pike’s Bridge Road, now a walking path off Turkey Hill Road in West Newbury. It wasn’t long before we came upon a couple of palm warblers, small yellow birds with a rusty cap, characteristically “wagging” their tails as they flit from branch to branch. Nearby was a blue-gray gnatcatcher, with a white eye-ring and flashing white in its long tail.

As we came upon the bridge and the marshy end of the Artichoke Reservoir, both tree and rough-winged swallows were flying around, catching insects over the water. A pair of song sparrows was setting up a nesting territory along the road with the male relaying its territorial song periodically. Ruby-crowned kinglets flitted in a nearby cedar tree. Further down the road we encountered more palm warblers, gnatcatchers and both ruby-crowned and golden-crowned kinglets. Wood ducks were swimming in the water and a mute swan was asleep atop its nest. At the Garden Street end, a pair of unusually cooperative hermit thrushes posed along the road and on nearby tree stumps, providing great views for everyone.

As we retraced our steps back, we were entertained by a pair of dueling barred owls, hooting back and forth to each other -- at 10:30 in the morning. The exchange went on for almost five minutes, giving everyone the thrill of hearing owls in the bright sunlight. When we arrived back at the cars, I heard what I thought was either a brown thrasher or a mockingbird singing across the street. I saw a bird atop a distant tree so I took out a scope and got the bird in view. That bird turned out to be a beautiful male kestrel. Everyone got great views of it through the scope, though I never did find that singing bird.

Looking up, we saw a hawk soaring quite low overhead. It was a broad-winged hawk, my first of the season. Meanwhile, a sharp-shinned hawk sped by, perhaps in pursuit of prey. We received a report of a sandhill crane at the William Forward Wildlife Management Area along Route 1 in Newbury, so we decided to extend the trip and try for the crane. As we arrived, we spotted the young crane in the field of corn stubble on the left. It was a distance away, but we had nice views through the scope. It looked like the same bird that was on Scotland Road a day earlier.

A bonus was the half dozen kestrels that were hunting the fields. It was great to see so many kestrels in one area. It was a great way to end a very enjoyable trip for all! You are welcome to participate in future free walks from the store. To see the schedule, visit www.birdwatcherssupplyandgift.com.

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.