Wednesday Morning Birding Report, June 19 2019

Donna Cooper joined me in leading Wednesday Morning Birding on what turned out to be a rather quiet morning birdwise. Skies were overcast to mostly cloudy; the air was calm; and the temp was a steady 64 degrees F. When all said and done, we realized 38 species of birds. To date, our tally for 2019 is 167 species.

With low tide at 8:30 am, we decided to go directly to Sandy Point. Surely with the overcast conditions, there would be very few “beach creatures” to deal with and, therefore, parking places available. En route, we spied a pair of Gadwalls on the Main Panne, an American Black Duck (unusual at this time of year) in flight, and an Osprey perched atop the Pines Trail nesting platform.

While on the beach at Sandy Point, we saw about six Piping Plovers; one was on a nest. In addition to the usual Herring Gulls and a Great Black-backed Gull or two, there were about seven Least Terns, two of which were on a nest. Mates were seen bringing food to the nest-bound mate. Aside from the size difference, recall that the Least Tern’s outstanding field marks are a yellow bill with black tip and a white forehead contrasting with its black cap; as compared with the larger Common Tern’s orange-red bill with black tip and complete black cap. A second Osprey was a fly-by. Other than the plovers, terns, and gulls, not a lot going on on the beach. Walking to and from, we could hear a couple of Song Sparrows singing along with the “your teeeee” of an Eastern Towhee. We heard a number of towhees singing up and down the island as we drove, and saw and heard Gray Catbirds and Eastern Kingbirds.

Piping Plover by Bob Minton
Piping Plover by Bob Minton
Piping Plover by Tom Schreffler
Piping Plover by Tom Schreffler
Piping Plover standoff by Mike Densmore
Piping Plover standoff by Mike Densmore
 Piping Plover standoff over by Tom Schreffler
Piping Plover standoff over by Tom Schreffler
 Least Tern by Mike Densmore
Least Tern by Mike Densmore
Least Terns by Tom Schreffler
Least Terns by Tom Schreffler

At the Hellcat parking lot, a Baltimore Oriole briefly sang, as did a Purple Finch — otherwise, with nesting in full swing, there was very little song. A Yellow Warbler quickly flew from one side of the parking lot to the other. From the Hellcat dike, many ducks were feeding and loafing on Bill Forward Pool. The vast majority of ducks were Mallards, about 75 of them. Most of them were drakes in eclipse molt. The “best of show” award went to three drake Green-winged Teal, which were very close to us — the best looks many of us had ever had. Yes, one was in the early stages of eclipse molt, but the other two were pretty sharp continuing in their nuptial plumage. While we were enjoying the waterfowl spectacle, a pair of Gadwalls flew in fairly close by. Also on the pool were a Great Egret and several Double-crested Cormorants, including two young of the year. A pair of Willets put on a rather late courtship flight with attendant vocalizing — quite the show . . . . and a Killdeer fed in the mud nearby.

Green-winged Teal by Bob Minton
Green-winged Teal by Bob Minton
Willet by Bob Minton
Willet by Bob Minton
Willet by Mike Densmore
Willet by Mike Densmore
Killdeer by Bob Minton
Killdeer by Bob Minton

At Joyce Spencer’s suggestion, we walked up the refuge road to check on the American Redstart nest David Moon had located a couple of weeks earlier. We were able to find the nest just south of Goodno Crossing and were rewarded with seeing the female redstart brooding her young before going on a grocery run. As we watched, there were several feedings. We were able to see only one nestling, but surely there were more. That was a nice way to wrap up our visit to Hellcat.

American Redstart female by Tom Schreffler
American Redstart female by Tom Schreffler

On our way back to Joppa, we stopped briefly at the small pannes to try for Saltmarsh Sparrow. Donna caught fleeting glimpses of small, dark objects in the marsh — the typical “Johnnie Jump Ups” behavior of Saltmarsh Sparrows, but we were never able to catch one perched.

Please join us next Wednesday, June 26, for our last Wednesday Morning Birding before the July hiatus. David Moon will be back from his Iceland adventure. Following next Wednesday, August 7 marks the next WMB program.

All the best!
Dave Weaver

Our list:
Canada Goose (~ 20) – Bill Forward Pool (BFP).
Gadwall (4) – pr. on Main Panne; pr on BFP.
American Black Duck (1) – in flight over marsh n. Main Panne.
Mallard (~ 75) – BFP.
Green-winged Teal (3) -drakes, BFP; probably 6 more Green-wings at s.
end BFP.
Wild Turkey (1) – roadside.
Double-crested Cormorant (~ 7) – various; including 2 juvs, BFP.
Great Egret (4)
Osprey (2) – 1 on Pines platform; 1, Sandy Point.
Piping Plover (~ 6) – Sandy Point.
Killdeer (2)
Greater Yellowlegs (1) – Main Panne.
Willet (~ 12) – various, active courtship displays at BFP.
Herring Gull – Sandy Point.
Great Black-backed Gull (2) – Sandy Point.
Least Tern (~ 7) – 2 on nest; Sandy Point.
Mourning Dove (2)
Eastern Kingbird (~ 7) – various.
Purple Martin (~ 10) – parking lot #1.
Tree Swallow (1)
Black-capped Chickadee (1) – near Goodno Crossing.
Carolina Wren (1) – singing in vicinity of Goodno Crossing.
American Robin (~ 6)
Gray Catbird – common.
European Starling
Cedar Waxwing (2) – shrubs across road from South Marsh.
Common Yellowthroat (1) – Hellcat.
American Redstart (3) – pr. & 1 nestling, s. Goodno Crossing.
Yellow Warbler (~ 5) – various.
Eastern Towhee – common.
Song Sparrow(~ 5) – various.
Northern Cardinal (1) – shrubs across road from South Marsh.
Bobolink (3) – various.
Red-winged Blackbird – common.
Common Grackle – common.
Brown-headed Cowbird (1)
Baltimore Oriole (2) – 1, Hellcat parking lot; 1, Goodno Crossing.
Purple Finch (2) – Hellcat.

Wednesday Morning Birding Report, June 12 2019

On June 12, Lynette Leka co-led Wednesday Morning Birding with me, and we carried on our annual spring tradition of visiting Woodsom Farm in Amesbury. Going there is a leisurely experience, as we walk out into thefarm’s great fields to observe grassland birds. Thanks to the City of Amesbury, the farm’s 130 acres of fields are managed to optimize nesting conditions for Bobolinks and Eastern Meadowlarks. The number of Bobolinks at Woodsom Farm is truly amazing, not only because of the size of the habitat, but because years of successful breeding have resulted in avery high density of birds. We strolled along the rolling hillocks, pausing to watch the activity and listen to the ebullient songs of lots and lots of Bobolinks. The males were, of course, most obvious as they sang from perches and displayed their magnificently slow courtship flights. Occasionally a female would make a display flight, but of another sort: a beeline for about 20 to 50 yards, enticing males to chase her. We did see one good chase when two males took off after a prospective mate. Let the fastest male win! It does seem strange that they have to go through all that, even after working hard at their own display flights.

Bobolink – John Linn

We expected to see and hear Eastern Meadowlark(s) from the heavy fence posts and trees that surround a small portion of field near the farmhouse. Instead, we heard our first meadowlark song from the middle of a large, gently sloping hillside. That bird dashed off and only gave away his identity with the telltale white outer tail feathers, then disappeared in the tall grass. We continued up to the highest point of the “dog-walking road,” where there are always lots of Savannah Sparrows singing. This time was no exception.

Song Sparrow, Patti Wood
Bobolink flight display – Andrea LeBlanc

As we passed by a line of trees that follows the road, we listened and looked for other species, picking up some of the usual suspects. While a snatch of cuckoo song was heard by some, it didn’t continue, and the robust activity of a Northern Mockingbird in our vicinity made us wonder who had really made the sound. In such an open place there should be buteos, so it was no surprise to watch two Red-winged Blackbirds attacking a Red-tailed Hawk. They followed that hawk well above where a Red-winged Blackbird would ever normally go. Finally, as we made the return to the vehicles and passed by the railroad tie-bound pasture, our luck with meadowlarks at last came through. One perched for a good long while on the fence, and while we were taking turns viewing it through the scope, a few others flew above the fields.

Eastern Meadowlark – Patti Wood
Harris’ Checkerspot – Andrea LeBlanc
Red-tailed Hawk and Red-winged Blackbirds – John Linn
Red-winged Blackbird attacking Red-tailed Hawk – Bob Minton

Having bathed sufficiently in the Bobolink song “bubble bath,” we decided to stop at Pike’s Bridge Road on the way back to Joppa. Now that the trees have fully leafed out, it is easy to see what has happened to the forest at that beloved property. Last year there was a very heavy toll on the oak canopy from a severe outbreak of gypsy moths. A great number of the old twisty oaks that comprised the canopy have either died altogether or lost the branches at their tops. We observed a very lush understory of shrubs and young trees, and we heard a number of common species. It would be interesting to do a rigorous census there and see how the mix of birds might have changed relative to years of eBird data. Are canopy species like Red-eyed Vireos and Scarlet Tanagers less common now?

White-tailed Deer – Patti Wood

We headed back to Joppa, pondering the sometimes shocking vagaries of annual cycles of both native and nonnative organisms in our North Shore ecosystems, but happy that people were able to manage one environment and achieve a positive outcome. We are very grateful to the members of Amesbury’s Conservation Commission, Open Space Committee, Mayor’s Office, and DPW for fostering such a great grassland bird community at Woodsom Farm. What can you do in your town? Below is a photo of one other thing that some folks do to help bird populations: they put up and monitor homes for birds – in this case, Purple Martins. Lynette reports that the leaves that are in the nest, and the one held by a martin in Patti Wood’s photo last week, are from a Serviceberry, which we humans think may protect the birds from ectoparasites such as bird lice.

Purple Martin chicks with serviceberry leaves – Lynette Leka

Our list:
Ducks (0)
Double-crested Cormorant (1) – seen in the Merrimack as we drove across. 
Great Blue Heron (1) – high above the fields.
Great Egret (3) – various along the route.
Turkey Vulture (2) – Joppa Flats EC.
Osprey (1) – JFEC.
Red-tailed Hawk (3) Woodsom Farm.
Shorebirds (0)Mourning Dove (5) – various.
Chimney Swift (6) – Woodsom.
“Traill’s” Flycatcher (1) – too quiet to ID at Woodsom.
Eastern Phoebe (1) – Woodsom.
Blue Jay (1) – Woodsom.
American Crow (1) – Woodsom.
Barn Swallow (8) – Woodsom.
Black-capped Chickadee (3) – Pike’s Bridge Road (PBR).
Tufted Titmouse (5) – various.
Eastern Bluebird (1) – Woodsom.
American Robin – common.
Gray Catbird (6) – various.
Northern Mockingbird (2) – Woodsom.
European Starling – common.
Ovenbird (3) – PBR.
Common Yellowthroat (7) – various.
Yellow Warbler (6) – various.
Chipping Sparrow (4) – various.
Savannah Sparrow (8) – Woodsom.
Song Sparrow – common.
Northern Cardinal (1) – Woodsom.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (1) – PBR.
Bobolink (35?) – Woodsom.
Red-winged Blackbird – common.
Eastern Meadowlark (5) – Woodsom.
Common Grackle (5) – various.
Brown-headed Cowbird (4) – Woodsom.
Baltimore Oriole (2) – Woodsom.
House Finch (4) – Woodsom.
American Goldfinch (2) – Woodsom.
House Sparrow (5) – Woodsom.

Wednesday Morning Birding Report, June 5, 2019

On Wednesday, June 5, we anticipated a review of breeding birds on Plum Island, and that is what we got; migration was over. We began at parking lot #1 on Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, where I was accused of having a “soft spot” for Purple Martins. The thing is, I do have one. Purple Martins have big eyes, they trill softly, the males are a great color, and they like to live with humans. What’s not to like? So, after a bit of martin gazing, we were headed straight for Emerson Rocks, when co-leader Dave Weaver suggested we stop to see if the Saltmarsh Sparrows have “gotten visible.” We pulled over south of the Main Panne, just before the wooden guard rail, because we saw a number of sparrows there last year after breeding was well under way. But – not even one sparrow made the “20 yard dash” that we expect from them, which usually leaves them invisible again. Instead, John Linn spotted a Wilson’s Phalarope! We watched this breeding-plumage male bird hunting around a salt panne near the road for a good while, as the word got out and other humans showed up to join us. In addition to the Least Terns that were foraging in the pannes, a Common Tern was sitting on a clump of peat and grass as if it were nesting. Another Common Tern foraged above the Main Panne, and the bird on the ground never moved, so it did look like the two of them made a pair that could be nesting.

Purple Martin with vegetation – Patti Wood
Wilson’s Phalarope – John Linn
Wilson’s Phalarope – Stan Deutsch
Common Tern possibly nesting – Patti Wood

Though a number of WMBers were so delighted by the phalarope that they blurted “We can go home now!”, we soldiered on to view the beach at Bar Head. By then, Emerson Rocks provided only a few perches, but there were lots of shorebirds on the beach: Semipalmated Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones, Black-bellied Plovers, Sanderlings, a Piping Plover, and a few Dunlins. A bigger group of turnstones lounged on the rocks remaining above the flood tide. A few Common Terns flew about over the sea. To our surprise, a Solitary Sandpiper walked along the edge of the ocean, bobbing its tail a bit. We enjoyed the active shorebirds and calm sea for a good while, then headed back to Hellcat.

Least Tern – Patti Wood
Baltimore Oriole second-year male – Stan Deutsch
Gadwall mating flight – Mike Densmore

Because the tide was rising, there were not as many shorebirds on the flats in Bill Forward Pool as there were a couple of weeks ago. We found a clump of Semipalmated Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plovers, along with a few Least Sandpipers running around on the vegetated flats. A number of Gadwall were actively flying about, and a male Green-winged Teal foraged in the reeds near the dike in Bill Forward Pool. A sighting of a female there last Saturday gives us the idea they may be breeding there.

American Redstart on nest – John Linn
Red-eyed Vireo – Patti Wood

Out on the road, it was nice to relocate the American Redstart nest pictured here, with the female sitting on eggs. We think that the male is a 2nd-year bird (looking much like a female), as a couple of second-year male redstarts were seen tussling in the area, and we have not seen a fully adult male there for a couple of weeks. A Red-eyed Vireo sang along the road, and we spotted two of them. We did see a handsome Baltimore Oriole down near Goodno Crossing, but this week we did not find the bright male that we think might be nesting near the parking lot. This week during Wednesday Morning Birding, we will explore some inland sites to see if cuckoos and other species we enjoy are found in their usual haunts. It is always very satisfying to see them getting down to the business of nesting and raising young again.

Eastern Towhee – Bob Minton
Purple Martin – Bob Minton

Our list:
Brant (1) – on beach at Emerson Rocks (ER).
Canada Goose – common.
Mute Swan (3) – ads, Main Panne.
Gadwall (5) – Bill Forward Pool (BFP).
Mallard (22) – BFP.
Green-winged Teal (2) – drake, BFP; drake, small pannes.
Common Eider (~ 10) – on beach ER.
Double-crested Cormorant (~ 20) – ~ 15, ER; ~ 5, various.
Great Egret (~ 7) – various.
Snowy Egret (~ 5) – various.
Osprey (3) – 2, vicinity of Cross Farm Hill; 1, Pines Trail platform.
Black-bellied Plover (~ 15) – ~ 14, on beach ER; 1, BFP.
Semipalmated Plover (5) – BFP.
Piping Plover (1) – refuge beach from Bar Head.
Solitary Sandpiper (1) – on beach ER.
Greater Yellowlegs (1) – small pannes.
Ruddy Turnstone (~ 20) – ER.
Sanderling (5) – on beach ER.
Semipalmated Sandpiper (~ 90) – ~ 70, on beach ER; ~ 20, BFP.
Least Sandpiper (3) – BFP.
Dunlin (4) – on beach ER.
Wilson’s Phalarope (1) – female vs. male being debated; small pannes.
Herring Gull – common.
Great Black-backed Gull (1)
Least Tern (5) – pannes.
Common Tern (2) – pannes; one apparently on nest on island in small
panne just s. Main Panne.
Morning Dove (1)
Chimney Swift (1) – north of parking lot #1.
Great Crested Flycatcher (2) – vicinity of Goodno Crossing.
Eastern Kingbird – common.
Red-eyed Vireo (2) – Goodno Crossing.
Blue Jay (1) – S-curves.
Purple Martin (~ 10) – parking lot #1.
Tree Swallow (1)
Black-capped Chickadee (2) – 1, S-curves; 1, Hellcat.
Marsh Wren (1) – heard from Hellcat dike, North Pool marsh.
American Robin – common.
Gray Catbird – common.
Northern Mockingbird (1)
Brown Thrasher (1)
Cedar Waxwing (~ 10) – parking lot at Bar Head.
Common Yellowthroat (4) – Hellcat & Goodno.
American Redstart (5) – Hellcat & Goodno.
Yellow Warbler – common.
Eastern Towhee – common.
Song Sparrow (4) – various.
Northern Cardinal (2) – Bar Head.
Bobolink (1) – Hellcat dike.
Red-winged Blackbird – common.
Common Grackle – common.
Baltimore Oriole (2) – 1, Bar Head parking lot; 1, Hellcat.
Purple Finch (1) – Hellcat.
American Goldfinch (3)
House Sparrow