As we continue to get a few warm days with southwest winds slivered between the chill and rain, the early spring migrants continue to arrive. My robin is back - the one who thinks he is a rooster. But, then, even roosters have the courtesy to wait until the morning skies lighten before they call. My robin starts singing away before 4:30 a.m., long before the sun has even a notion of rising in the east. You expect this of a mockingbird, but not a robin. The bright security lights around our complex has something to do with this, I'm sure.
My store flicker is back too. I know because he has been drumming on the metal chimney on the building. He is trying to impress a prospective mate, while I'm thinking that work is being done on the building by the landlord. Flickers often find metal on which to hammer to help resonate their sound during their courtship.
Doug Chickering of Groveland shares with us last weekend's encounters with some new spring migrants:
"In a strict sense, there is no discernable beginning to the migration season. The red-winged blackbirds and grackles first appear in the middle of February, and that is sort of a beginning. Some of our first spring birds actually tough it out through the winter, like robins and, on occasion, catbirds and hermit thrush. Perhaps a case can be made that the spring migration begins with the arrival of killdeer or the courtship ritual of woodcock, or the first few yellowlegs feeding at the edge of the salt marshes. Or perhaps not. The natural world is seldom so tidy that it lends itself to clear bright beginnings and ends. Instead the seasons drift in and out like haze over a river, and the arrival of the migration comes as progression of little events that dawn into awareness.
"Today, however, was a real step up away from winter and toward that great cornucopia of birds in the trees and at the edge of the roads, in the marshes and fields. Today was the first wave of the year, at least for Lois and me. We started the day searching for snowy egret and glossy ibis in Ipswich and Essex. We had heard the reports of large numbers but were still somewhat taken unaware to find over 20 snowy egrets feeding in the marshes behind Shea brothers furniture shop off Route 133 in Ipswich and then another 17 scattered across the marshes at Island Road [in Essex]. With the Snowys behind Shea brothers was a single great egret and about a dozen glossy ibis mixed in. In the gloom of the gray day, it was a striking tableau of black and white.
"At this point, we decided to head for Plum Island. We entertained the notion of finding the recently reported northern shoveler. We never found the shoveler, but from out of the gloom and spitting rains, we encountered the first wave of the year. We never wandered off the road, but as soon as we got to the pans, we encountered large numbers of passerines. At first we thought them all to be song sparrows ... At the pans I pointed out an Eastern phoebe sitting on a sign right beside the car. It was Lois' first of the year. Then just beyond flitted another phoebe, then another one crossed in front of the car, and then for the next hour or so the show was on.
Phoebes were everywhere. I attempted to keep count and ended up counting 25, but there were clearly more than that.
"There were at least twice that number of song sparrows and a good number of juncos. At the entrance to the New Pines access road, there was a cluster of 20 or more juncos. There were robins everywhere, and in the s-curves, we encountered three hermit thrushes. After the austerity and barrenness of winter, these numbers were a soaring delight. They aren't rare birds, and I suppose the numbers aren't unprecedented. However, on that short drive down to Stage Island, I think I saw more phoebes than all of last year. This isn't the magnificent cavalcade of warblers singing in the sun that is to come, but just to be able to pick through active clusters of small birds at the side of the road again was tonic."
This Thursday, less than a week later, this proclamation came forth from Tom Wetmore, Mr. Plum Island Birds: "The best time of the year has begun on Plum: warbler migration! The gems are arriving. Palm warblers were found along the Pines Trail by a number of observers today! It hath begun! Life has purpose and meaning once again. There is joy in Muddville.
"The migration of American kestrels continues. Craig Jackson has assembled a dedicated group of hawk watchers who scan the skies from the Lot 1 visitor center throughout spring . ... If you are interested in seeing migrating raptors, you should feel free to stop by and visit. Hawk watchers are friendly folk, and so goofy about their favorite birds that they will love to show them off to you."
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.