Tag Archives: American redstart

Peak Migration

May 19, 2016

Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, Marblehead

Magnolia Warbler - at 72 dpi

Magnolia Warbler, male, watercolor on Fluid 100 cold-press, 7″ x 10″

In New England, May is the busiest month for Spring songbird migration, and most birders agree that the 2nd and 3rd weeks of May are prime time.   This is when the greatest numbers and variety of migrating passerines move through Massachusetts.

Two Mass Audubon properties are of particular note at this time of year.  Marblehead Neck Wildlife Sanctuary and Nahant Thicket Wildlife Sanctuary are well known “migrant traps” – small plots of woodland on heavily developed peninsulas surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean.

As with most types of birding, hitting a place like this on just the right day is largely a matter of luck, but visiting during the prime weeks aforementioned gives one a pretty good chance of having a good day.  The days I visited did not coincide with any spectacular “fall-outs”, but neither did they disappoint.  I saw 16 species of warblers in the course of my two visits, plus a smattering of vireos, thrushes, tanagers, orioles and gnatcatchers.

Traveling to these heavily developed areas from other parts of the state, one must anticipate traffic – HEAVY traffic at certain times of the day.   I realized I would need to:  a.) start out pre-dawn and try to arrive at the destination before the morning traffic rush begins or b.) travel later in the morning when rush hour is tapering off.  I chose the second option for Marblehead Neck, and the first for Nahant Thicket. 

Arriving at the Marblehead Neck parking area at 10:15am, I claimed the last parking spot.  It had been a busy morning, and some birders were just returning to their cars.  They had the usual report, which was basically: “You should have been here yesterday.”  However, I could hear a Blackpoll Warbler, a Magnolia Warbler and a Black-throated Green from the parking lot, so how bad could it be?

Wood Anemones, Marblehead Neck - at 72 dpi

Wood Anemones

Wood Anemones are in full bloom along the Warbler Trail, and as I near the small pond at the end of the Vireo Loop, I hear the “burt-burt” calls of a Northern Rough-winged Swallow.  A pair is using a snag above the pond – periodically perching and preening between bouts of aerial foraging.  I seldom see Rough-wings perched, so take the time to make a quick sketch, noting that the wingtips are often held below the tail.

Rough-winged Swallow sketch - at 72 dpi

While a brilliant tanager, grosbeak or oriole can steal the show momentarily, it’s the wood warblers that are the star attraction here.  On the way to Audubon Pond I begin to get a sense for which warbler species are most abundant today.  Northern Parulas and Magnolia Warblers are everywhere, and Black-and-whites and Redstarts are nearly as common.

Redstart Studies - at 72 dpi

Redstart Studies, watercolor on Arches cold-press, 10″ x 13″

Bay-breasted Pair - sketch - at 72 dpi

Sketchbook study, pencil, 5″ x 5″

At the pond, I spy a handsome male Bay-breasted Warbler foraging in a flowering oak, and a short time later spot the female.  The pair keeps in close proximity to one another, and at one point I have both of them in my binocular field at once, perched only inches apart.  I refine my sketches later to make careful studies of both the male and female.

Bay-breasted Warbler, female - at 72 dpi

Female Bay-breasted Warbler, watercolor in Stillman and Birn Delta sketchbook, 9″ x 12″

Bay-breasted Warbler, male - at 72 dpi

Male Bay-breasted Warbler, watercolor in Stillman and Birn Delta sketchbook, 9″ x 12″

With so many birds to sketch and all of them moving about, I content myself with pencil studies, observing with binoculars.  It’s a challenging way to draw, and demands all the visual memory I can muster.   With species I haven’t drawn recently, I have to re-learn the field marks – struggling to get all those stripes, spots and bars in just the right places.

Blackbunian female - at 72 dpi

Sketchbook study, 3.5″ x 5″

A female Blackburnian Warbler is a nice surprise on the Warbler Trail.  No male “fire-throat” today, but the female’s throat has a lovely bright apricot color.

Soloman Seal at Marblehead Neck - at 72 dpi

Up ‘til now, the morning has been gray and overcast, but at 2 pm the sun breaks out and the day warms quickly.  Birdsong tapers off and the action slows.   On my way back to the parking area, I give my “warbler’s neck” a rest, and admire a patch of Solomon ’s Seal that forms an attractive pattern on the forest floor.

 

Hotspot

This is from a series of posts by MABA resident artist Barry Van Dusen

 

Joppa Flats Education Center and Wildlife Sanctuary, Newburyport on September 20, 2015

Shorebirds at the Boatramp, Joppa - at 72 dpi
If you’ve been following this blog, you may remember that I made a brief post about Joppa Flats back in Mid-May, but I knew I wanted to spend more time at this exciting location. Most Massachusetts birders would agree that Plum Island, in Newburyport, is the No. 1 birding destination in the Commonwealth.  Joppa Flats Education Center on Newburyport Harbor is nearly unique among Mass Audubon properties in having NO trail system. Instead, Joppa serves as an education center and visitor support facility for this premier birding location. All visitors to Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and other hotspots on Plum Island pass right by, (and usually make a stop) at the Joppa center. For the purposes of my residency, therefore, I am considering any work I do on Plum Island and Newburyport Harbor, a part of my visit to Joppa.

Shorebird Studies at the Boatramp, Newburyport - at 72 dpi

Shorebird Studies at the Boatramp, sketchbook page, 9″ x 12″

If you hit the tides right, the boatramp just down the shore from Joppa can be a good spot to watch shorebirds. The exposed flats in the harbor can teem with birds, and many come in close to forage along the edge of the marsh grass.

Dowitcher Flock - at 72 dpi

Dowitcher Flock, pencil and watercolor on Canson drawing paper, 8.5″ x 8.25″

Greater yellowlegs are abundant during my visit, as are short-billed dowitchers. Lesser yellowlegs are mixed in, along with some smaller peeps and plovers.   As the tide floods, the yellowlegs and dowitchers wade belly-deep in the strong current, leaving wakes behind them.

Greater Yellowlegs - at 72 dpi

Greater Yellowlegs, watercolor on Arches rough, 16.25″ x 12.25″

Perhaps the long stretch of warm, dry weather had something to do with the scarcity of birds out on the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, today. Passerines were few and far between, although rarities like western tanager and Connecticut warbler were reportedly being seen by some lucky individuals. I DID encountered one modest wave of birds along the Marsh Loop Trial at Hellcat – two yellow warblers, a redstart and a magnolia warbler – duly noted in my sketchbook…

Fall Warblers at PRNWR - at 72 dpi

Fall Warblers at PRNWR, sketchbook page, 12″ x 8.25″