Author Archives: David M.

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

Wednesday Morning Birding Report, May 29, 2019

Last Wednesday began with gloomy, wet weather and cool temperatures, bracketing a week and a half of great warbler weather distinctly for WMB. Susan Yurkus and I decided to follow Dave Adrien’s advice, and head straight for Sandy Point, in search of Roseate Terns. To get to the far stretch of strand where the larger terns roost and forage, we past by a vast plain of sand and wrack abounding with Least Terns! It was almost healing to see so many back at Sandy Point after two years where the “Toy Terns” were forced to abandon the area due to the loss of a beach platform higher than most flood tides, and that are covered with adequate wrack. Many showed up at the north end of Plum Island, and of course we won’t know how many moved there and how many absconded to Crane Beach. It was great to see so many back on Sandy Point, however, along with some large, dashing flocks of migrating Semipalmated Sandpipers, with several Semipalmated Plovers. Plenty of Piping Plovers were about as they set up shop, ignoring the flocks of migrating shorebirds.

Least Tern – Mike Densmore
Semipalmated Sandpiper showing partially webbed toes – Bob Minton
Laughing Gull – Tom Schreffler
Piping Plover – John Linn

As we neared the inland side of the point, where a few larger terns were hidden by the beach scarp, some bigger birds went by, including Common Terns and a Roseate Tern that not many in the group saw, followed by a breeding-plumage Laughing Gull that was easy to distinguish from possible Bonaparte’s by the darker mantle and lack of white in the forewing. The terns, some Bonaparte’s Gulls in basic plumage, and the Laughing Gull, later settled on a sand flat further along. As the terns rose and settled, two Roseate Terns stood out with long tails and very light mantles. Later, we could discern them among the birds sitting on the sand. The gray sky served to highlight the white-and-gray birds, and the new stretches of almost empty space they were moving through lent the scene the otherworldly feel of an outer beach.

Roseate Terns and Bonaparte’s Gulls – Mike Densmore
Common Tern – Tom Schreffler
Snapping Turle hatchling at Sandy Point – Patti Wood

After such a satisfying venture, it seemed a bit much to hope for a sighting of the Least Bittern that had been reported at Hellcat, but hope springs eternal. When we arrived on the dike there, we were immediately struck by the number of shorebirds on the flats at Bill Forward Pool. Many Dunlin and Semipalmated Sandpipers along with three dowitchers we assumed to be Short-billed Dowitchers, and a White-rumped Sandpiper. An egret foraged along the edge of the water along the outer dike in BFP, and putting the scope on it, we were treated to the very fleeting, bright red facial skin color of a Snowy Egret in the early stages of its breeding plumage.

Snowy Egret with breeding season soft parts – Mike Densmore
Dunlin – John Linn
Cedar Waxwing – Patti Wood

After our first session of staring at shorebirds this year, we headed to the road to see if we could dig up any warblers. There were a few around, though nothing like what was happening the previous week. It was like somebody had switched off the migration faucet, leaving a small, but persistent drip. Still it was pleasant to seek the American Redstarts that always nest in Goodno swamp, hear the “whisper song” of a Magnolia Warbler, and barely glimpse one Canada Warbler hurrying to some vernal pool in Maine. As we arrived in the parking lot, we were cheered immensely by spotting a male Baltimore Oriole with extensive reddish plumage on his breast, looking just like the one we dubbed “Champ” last year. This year, we need a recording of his song to determine if the same bird is indeed returning there to be a model for the species, as each one has his own particular, identifiable version of the species’ song. Feel free to go out there to obtain a recording we can use as a “voucher!”

Baltimore Oriole “Champ” – Bob Minton

Our Lists:
Canada Goose (2) – Main Panne.
Mute Swan (4) – Main Panne.
Gadwall (4) – 2, Main Panne; 2, Bill Forward Pool (BFP)
Mallard (6) – various.
Common Eider (2) – Sandy Point.
Common Goldeneye (1) – Stage Island Pool.
Wild Turkey (2) – roadside.
Mourning Dove (1) – powerlines north of refuge.
Black-bellied Plover (3) – Sandy Point.
Semipalmated Plover (~25-30) – 5, Sandy Point; many, BFP.
Piping Plover (~15) – Sandy Point.
Killdeer (2) – Main Panne.
Dunlin (~150) – BFP.
White-rumped Sandpiper (1) – BFP.
Semipalmated Sandpiper (~160) – ~60, Sandy Point; ~100, BFP.
Short-billed Dowitcher (3) – BFP.
Willet – common.
Bonaparte’s Gull (6) – Sandy Point.
Laughing Gull (1) – Sandy Point.
Herring Gull – common.
Great Black-backed Gull (2) – North Marsh.
Least Tern (~100) – Sandy Point and pannes.
Roseate Tern (3) – Sandy Point.
Common Tern (~20) – Sandy Point.
Double-crested Cormorant – common.
Great Egret (4) – various.
Snowy Egret (5) – various.
[Turkey Vulture (4) – over Pine Island.]
Osprey (2) – North Marsh.
Red-tailed Hawk (1) – Plum Island Turnpike.
Traill’s Flycatcher (2) – Goodno.
Eastern Phoebe (1) – Hellcat parking lot.
Eastern Kingbird (~12) – various.
Red-eyed Vireo (1) – Hellcat road.
Blue Jay (2) – Goodno.
Purple Martin (10) – parking lot #1.
Barn Swallow (1) – Sandy Point.
Black-capped Chickadee (2) – Hellcat.
Tufted Titmouse (1) – singing near Dunes Trail.
Marsh Wren (~3) – singing from North Pool marsh.
Carolina Wren (1) – singing in Dunes Loop.
American Robin – common.
Gray Catbird – common.
Brown Thrasher (2) – roadside.
European Starling – common.
Cedar Waxwing (19) – South Marsh thicket.
House Sparrow – common.
Purple Finch (2) – Hellcat.
American Goldfinch (1) – Hellcat.
Common Yellowthroat – common.
American Redstart (5) – various.
Magnolia Warbler (1) – Hellcat.
Yellow Warbler – common.
Black-throated Blue Warbler (1) – Hellcat.
Canada Warbler (1) – Hellcat.
Eastern Towhee – common.
Song Sparrow – common.
Northern Cardinal (1)
Red-winged Blackbird – common.
Common Grackle – common.
[Orchard Oriole (1) – Joppa/PRNWR HQ]
Baltimore Oriole (3) – Hellcat. (Including bright male, aka “Champ,” near parking lot.)

Additional species from Wednesday evening:
Tricolored Heron (1) – in panne north of Hellcat tower.
Black-crowned Night-Heron (3) – over marsh at The Wardens.
Merlin (1) – Perched along road near parking lot #2.
Chestnut-sided Warbler (1) – Hellcat.