, Newburyport, MA

September 21, 2013

Warblers and vireos highlight local fall migration

By Steve Grinley

---- — The fall passerine migration is upon us, and Doug Chickering of Groveland shares with us some time he spent on Plum Island this past week:

“I got to Plum Island early this morning, early enough to hear a Whip-poor-will serenading the approaching loom of dawn on the ocean side of the road, by the entrance to the wardens. I arrived early enough to witness the break-up of an impressive egret roost in the Bill Forward Pool. The sun was just illuminating the top of the dike in the back of the pool when I arrived at the new blind.

“The pool was crowded with egrets and already some of them were rising up into the still morning air, in small groups, heading over the dike and out into the wide vastness of the Great Marsh. I did a methodical count and came up with 167 Great Egrets, 59 Snowy Egrets and a single solitary Glossy Ibis. My view was obstructed at two places.

It is certain that there had been many more than what my count revealed. Still it was a spectacular sight. I was also early enough to be the first onto the Hellcat boardwalks just as the morning was forming. It was chilly and windless. The rising sun was just illuminating the upper stories of the trees under a pure blue sky. And almost immediately I began to run into small clusters of passerines. There were not a lot of birds, but compared with the previous month or so it was refreshingly active.

This was not a day to introduce birding to a new and eager student. The birds were hard to see as they went about their business in the thick foliage; usually high up in the trees. It would have been as discouraging to newbie as it was a challenge to experienced birders. When the birds are virtually silent, and when you are first aware of their presence by an anomalous tremor in a branch, there is a special exciting mystery to the bird. No telling what might eventually appear. They drop from branch to branch, or streak across the pathway, or dive into the thick underbrush!

Sometimes they reappear at a totally unexpected location, and sometimes right in front of you and sometimes they don ‘t reappear at all. I saw yellow on that bird and I think it had a gray head....gone. Later on in the morning, I encountered friends, chatted with them, birded with them, shared this extraordinary beautiful September morning with them, and hunted out birds with them. I ended up with 11 species of warbler, three species of vireo; including 5 Philadelphia vireos and both kinglets in the mix. When matched with some of the other lists that have been posted, it is an unimpressive array, but it was also a day that couldn’t be beat.

One of the birds I saw was a male Black-throated Blue Warbler along the path that leads to the old blind. It was one of the few warblers that was right out in the open. Flitting from one nearby tree to another, giving me extraordinary looks and even hopping along the boardwalk right in front of me. This is not an uncommon bird and is to be expected this time of year. It is also a bird that doesn’t change its plumage with the seasons and therefore, for me, seems to carry a whiff of the spring with it. A welcome relief from the struggle of digging birds out of the leafy tree-tops. I found myself completely entranced with this rather common, but beautiful little warbler. I expect that I will see this bird again this year, in the same place, later in the migration— possibly even in November.

The fall passerine migration is in full swing and may it last through October.”

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.