Author Archives: David M.

Wednesday Morning Birding Report July 15, 2020

Our dogged determination to “catch up” on WMB continued this week, with a visit to Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary (IRWS) in Topsfield. This was a somewhat symbolic choice of locations as Joppa Flats and Ipswich River are now combined in Mass Audubon’s North Shore. It was a pleasure to meet there and be greeted by North Shore Director Amy Weidensaul. For those of you who don’t know Amy, she is the real deal. Amy has been leading Environmental Education (EE) programs for her entire career, and has been led birding trips all over North America and Central and South America. Amy has a PhD in EE, with a dissertation on the lifelong impacts of youth environmental education on adults’ environmental identity. She began her career as a plover warden on Plymouth Beach, where she was vastly outweighed by the fishermen she had to corral away from the nesting areas, but where she found that her intense commitment to wild creatures gave her all the stature she needed. Amy is also a very fun person, though this week she was way too busy with the recent Mass Audubon restructuring to go birding with us. She will someday soon, she will!

Red-tailed Hawk – John Linn

What to say about our slightly quixotic quest for birds in mid-July!? All jesting about Greenhead Flies aside, the real reason we took July off in the past is not the flies or even the beachgoers clogging the refuge. It’s the silence. There were two segments of our walk through the woods at IRWS this Wednesday that were utterly silent. There were birds there, they just were not letting us know what they were up to. Only one Ovenbird? Not one Yellow Warbler?? We did find this cool Slime Mold, and lucky for you nature lovers, I can always find a way to fill a vacuum of sound…

Slime Mold preparing to produce spores – David Moon

Things definitely picked up when we got up on the observation Tower. The freshwater marshes at IRWS are epic, and if you have never walked along the esker that winds through them, you have to. In our two shifts climbing the tower we detected a nice little smattering of waterbirds, and could see this year’s crop of Tree Swallows and Red-winged Blackbirds.

Mallard in Lilly Pads – Patti Wood

The upland passerines did pick up somewhat as we made our way back up the hill. A family of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers arrested our attention for a time as the young of the year frantically begged for more gooey protein, vireos and pewees called reliably, and a Red-tailed Hawk that somehow has been habituated to humans sat phlegmatically in the lilacs near the yard. This Red-tail’s presumed mate soared around above, crying out in classic fashion. The annual mushroom crop has begun to appear, and this blue-staining Suillus was growing in a troop.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – David moon
Blue Staining Suillus sp. – John Linn

IRWS has a fantastic array of nest boxes, and we found some of the inhabitants, enjoyed the resident Hummingbird, and most of all enjoyed each others’ enjoyment of the birds on offer. It still feels incredibly special to be out with other birders!

Monarch Butterfly – Patti Wood

Our List:
Wood Duck (1)
Mallard (5)
Mourning Dove (2)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (1)
Double-crested Cormorant (1)
Great Blue Heron (2)
Great Egret (2)
Snowy Egret (1)
Green Heron (1)
Black-crowned Night-Heron (1)
Turkey Vulture (1)
Red-tailed Hawk (2)
Downy Woodpecker (5)
Pileated Woodpecker (1)
Eastern Kingbird (2)
Eastern Wood-Pewee (2)
Warbling Vireo (1)
Red-eyed Vireo (2)
Blue Jay (1)
Tree Swallow (~ 15)
Barn Swallow (5)
Black-capped Chickadee (4)
Tufted Titmouse (2)
White-breasted Nuthatch (2)
House Wren (1)
Marsh Wren (1)
Carolina Wren (1)
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (4) – including 2 fledglings.
Eastern Bluebird (2)
Gray Catbird (~ 5)
European Starling (3)
Cedar Waxwing (1)
House Sparrow – common.
American Goldfinch (4)
Chipping Sparrow (2)
Eastern Towhee (1)
Baltimore Oriole (1)
Red-winged Blackbird – common.
Ovenbird (1)
Common Yellowthroat (2)
Northern Cardinal (5)

Wednesday Morning Birding Report, July 8, 2020

This Wednesday we completed our final episode of the “pilot” for pandemic-era Wednesday Morning Birding, during which we practiced a new list of physical distancing and health-safety precautions. We are now ready to open Joppa Flats’ foundational birding program to the public again. We will continue, of course, to carefully evaluate and adapt this old-but-new program as we go forward. And MAN, it has been great to go birding with our good WMB friends, no matter what the birds are up to. They have been interesting, even in their occasional absence.

Cedar Waxwing – Bob Minton

On July 8, Susan Yurkus and I met a small group at Martin Burns Wildlife Management area in Newbury. It is that time of the season when the fledglings and chicks are plenty big and hungry. Parent birds therefore have little time to do much but stuff protein into young mouths. We therefore had no evidence of birds that we know are common at that site. We never even heard the following birds:
Great-crested Flycatcher
Blue-winged Warbler
American Redstart
Yellow Warbler!
Chestnut-sided Warbler!!
One excuse for that is that the program begins at 9:30 AM, and we knew that if we had been there much earlier there would have been evidence of species which are otherwise common in the intentionally disturbed habitats that are managed at Martin Burns.

Baltimore Oriole – Tom Schreffler

But our little adventure was not a bust! As we walked in the road towards the open areas, some woodland birds were still singing. Of course one of the things that makes Martin Burns special are birds that like edges and open areas. We had great looks at male Indigo Buntings belting out their songs despite the growing heat. Common Yellowthroats just can’t help themselves. Gray Catbirds are never to be out done, and they sang, called, and flitted all over the place. Eastern Towhees sat up and leaned back, singing in the open. When a Scarlet Tanager sang a few phrases off in the distance, it was such a short little burst that it was hardly worth mentioning, but he made it onto the list. That is the way it is with birdsong these days: a male who is feeding his young pauses to do a little bit of territorial defense, but quickly returns to his pursuit of being a food-providing machine.

Indigo Bunting – Tom Schreffler

As we slowly wandered along, catching up on a social level and enjoying birds that no one would write home about for their rarity, it was more clear than ever to this observer that sharing birds with others magnifies the joy of it. Many of us have done some nice birdwatching this spring and early summer, and we have even done it with a friend or two. For me at least, observing the distant silhouette of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird sitting calmly beneath a singing Indigo Bunting was much better with eight friends all enjoying it alongside me.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird – Bob Minton
Eastern Towhee – Tom Schreffler

When I say that you are my friends, the truth of that comes to me now with great force. What we have been going though makes it ever more clear how precious are the bonds we have formed with with each other, with our beloved Plum Island, the Great Marsh, all the other nooks and crannies of the area, and the incredible teeny feathered dinosaurs that inhabit them. Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder. We have experienced loss and struggle in a very short time, and the degree of that challenge makes what we do together ever more deeply meaningful. Nothing will stop us from continuing this pursuit, because it is the pursuit of wild creatures that has always compelled us to preserve what we can of nature in the onslaught of industrial expansion.

Now we are forming an even greater vision for how all us nature people of Mass Audubon can be of use to our world. We have various ways of chasing moments with nature, whether it is with birds, or bugs, brook or forest, or even simple awe of sand and sea. What ever it is that most connects us to nature, that connection means something now that we didn’t imagine before. While we have always known that nature is healing and vital, part and parcel of us, we now know that it is with nature alone that we will save ourselves from what human industry has wrought on the planet.

But we can’t simply set nature aside and hope for the best anymore. Rich, biodiverse ecosystems are now appearing as tools that will help us engineer our utterly necessary return to balance in the atmosphere and waters, in the very soil our food comes from. We are going to have to learn to restore our ecosystems on a large scale, to gently encourage their return following the laws of natural processes. What better thing could we be charged with? And what better signals of our success could we ask for than the birds that draw us out over and over again? Knowing this and holding close the moments of incredible beauty we see is what brings me to every birding expedition we show up to, any project or chore related to Mass Audubon. I am so thankful you are with me.

Our List:
Mourning Dove 1
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 2
Turkey Vulture 1
Downy Woodpecker 1
Hairy Woodpecker 1
Eastern Wood-Pewee 1
Red-eyed Vireo 3
Blue Jay 2
Tree Swallow 8
Black-capped Chickadee 10
Tufted Titmouse 5
White-breasted Nuthatch 2
House Wren 1
Carolina Wren 1
Veery 4
Wood Thrush 1
American Robin 6
Gray Catbird c
Cedar Waxwing 6
American Goldfinch 8
Chipping Sparrow 2
Eastern Towhee 8
Baltimore Oriole 3
Brown-headed Cowbird 1
Ovenbird 5
Common Yellowthroat 6
Scarlet Tanager 1
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 1
Indigo Bunting 2

Wednesday Morning Birding Report, Mid-Covidic

Has it been an age, an era, an epoch even, since a Wednesday Morning Birding report? Folks, it seems like all of those, and at the same time this time has flown by. For this Mass Audubon sanctuary director, “administrivia” has flowed, from circumstances caused by the pandemic, like the mother of all admin rivers, an easy and somewhat unfairly snarky thing to say while our beloved organization has been working incredibly hard to care for staff, to serve our members as best as possible, and to ensure we survive and thrive beyond this mess. It is too early to talk about silver linings, especially when we haven’t seen the worst of this, but we are learning new things that we will use in the future.

But birds! I have been holed up, not getting out to Plum Island or other popular places, in accordance with company policy. So I have focused on the little community of birds that miraculously has begun coming to my little backyard feeding station. This has been one of the slowest-starting bird feeding stations I’ve ever set up. But in the past couple of weeks, my feeders noticeably picked up speed, delivering what seem to be many mated pairs. They show up in twos, and you can tell they are male and female in many cases. My favorites are two European Starlings that visit for suet. Over the past three weeks they have become brighter and brighter, not just in plumage, but also in the color of soft parts. One is certainly more – can I say it?  – resplendent. I set up my camera on a tripod, fiddled with the controls I can use on my phone, and got a couple of okay shots. I have little time to play around with stuff like that. I still have great hopes for more sightings and photography adventures as the season progresses.

European Starling – David Moon
Common Loon – David Moon

One other bit of birding I have accomplished was near a place where I went to purchase an essential substance: local fish. The Yankee Fisherman’s Coop happens to have local fish. Right next door to it, there is a well-known public bathroom, atop of which a Glaucous Gull has stood during high tide for many winters. Since we know this is the same individual, I had an unscientific moment and decided this one is “Sidney.” You don’t have to join me. The day I went for the essential fish during high tide, Sidney was not there, but he (or she) had been reported a few weeks prior. I have not given up hope. We are low on local fish. I did remember to take a shot of this magnificent Herring Gull, however. We often malign the abundant birds to some degree, so I offer this one to you to bring up the idea that we can appreciate every living creature we see. Every moment is precious in which we have the health and mental acuity to appreciate the miracle of each and every living creature.

Herring Gull – David Moon

Now for some arguably awesome birds seen by the photographers I so admire in our WMB cohort, and a great shot of a pair of Eagles right behind Joppa by our neighbor Victor Cole. Thanks for sending me all the cheery reports, my friends. It means a great deal to me that we share birds with each other. As the pleas from our state and local officials have become ever more insistent that we stay home, I continue to work in the few spare moments I have to find ways to share ornithological interest from right here, my perch in Amesbury!

Green-winged Teal (Eurasian) – Mike Densmore: Mike found this rare (for here) sub-species of the Green-winged Teal on April 7 in the Main Panne at Park River National Wildlife Refuge.
Peregrine Falcons – Tom Schreffler
Common Merganser – Tom Screffler
Red-headed Woodpecker – Patti Wood
Bald Eagles on Joppa Flats – Victor Cole