Category Archives: Birding

Wednesday Morning Birding Report, May 22, 2019

At long last, the weather was predicted to be almost perfect for a big warbler day on Plum Island this past Wednesday. The Dawn Patrol program participants returned from their outing to Joppa at 9:00 am to tell Dave Weaver and me that they never even got as far as Hellcat, due to the number of warblers in the S-curves. After departing Joppa, our group of 40+ stopped briefly in parking lot #1 at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. We wanted to make sure anyone new could enjoy the Purple Martins, and we had also heard that the Middens (just beyond parking lot #1) were active earlier in the day. But, sensing the breeze had put those birds to flight to cover, we moved quickly to the Main Panne, where the thickets were busy, but not spectacular. We saw our first Least Tern foraging over the salt panne, though, a clear announcement of summer!

Killdeer – Andrea LeBLanc
Common Yellowthroat – John-Paul Jimenez
Chestnut-sided Warbler – Patti Wood
Cape May Warbler – Mike Densmore

Bird activity really picked up in the S-curves. At and near the sassafras grove on the south end of the S-curves, the trees were swarming with warblers. We were seeing Bay-breasted and Cape May warblers, along with many other more common species depiected in these images and found in our list below. It was a case of standing mostly still and trying to come up with a good description of where the next best thing was located. The sun was shining, and Plum Island was living up to its reputation for great migration!

Blackburnian Warbler – John Linn
Canada Warbler – Patti Wood
Bay-breasted Warbler – Kathy Ilowiecki
American Robin on nest – Andrea Leblanc

At Hellcat, the trees west of the road and north of Goodno Crossing were the hotspot, in particular, one Black Gum that had wave after wave of birds in it. We were careful not to stride up to stand in front of the line of regular birders lounging on the wooden guard rail, but they eventually drifted away from our rather large crowd. For once, however, it was just fine to have so many birding together, as the birds kept moving in front of us, and the road made plenty of room for the waiting, adoring audience. Many people witnessing this phenomenon got several life birds, and as you see, more than a few photos were taken. On our way back to the parking lot, Sherrill Pierce showed us a second-year male Indigo Bunting she had found. He was feasting on dandelion seeds on the side of the road. His blue-within-blue head kept popping up to delight all the already delighted birders.

Eastern Kingbird – Andrea LeBlanc
Black-throated Green Warbler – Bob Minton
Red-eyed Vireo – Mike Densmore.jpg

After a week or more of fantastic birding days on Plum Island, I have to reflect on the legacy of Annie H. Brown, who bequeathed the original large gift of island real estate that first became a Mass Audubon sanctuary and later the refuge. Another kind of gift was the education and perspective of Ludlow Griscom, who took over 500 trips with students and bird admirers to Plum Island from his post at Harvard. Their generosity of finances and of caring so much for birds and nature, combined with the generosity of so many others since then, leave us today with this incredible treasure. Who knows what you can do that will leave a lasting mark on the world? Maybe it will be the difference you can make in the life of one person you share a natural moment with. Or maybe it will be in the lives of thousands of people and multitudes of living creatures. Find nature, find people who need you to show it to them, and join us in the beautiful and vital effort to speak for all of the life on Earth.

White-crowned Sparrow – John-Paul Jimenez
Magnolia Warbler – John Linn
Indigo Bunting second-year male – Andrea LeBlanc
Northern Parula 2 – Bob Minton
Baltimore Oriole – Bob Minton

Our list:
Mute Swan (4) – adults; 1, marsh west of boat ramp; 3, small pannes.
Wild Turkey (1)
Double-crested Cormorant (8)
Turkey Vulture (1)
Osprey (2) – 1 on nest west of boat ramp.
[Bald Eagle (2) – juveniles, Joppa Flats.]
Killdeer (2) – main panne.
Willet (~ 6) – various.
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull (1)
Least Tern (1) – main panne.
Mourning Dove (1)
Downy Woodpecker (1) – S-curves.
[Willow Flycatcher (2) – PRNWR HQ vicinity.]
Empidonax sp. (1) – north of Goodno Crossing.
Eastern Kingbird (2) – north of Goodn Crossing.
Blue-headed Vireo (1) – New Pines.
Red-eyed Vireo (4) – Goodno Crossing.
Blue Jay (2)
American Crow (1)
Purple Martin (~ 12) – parking lot #1.
Tree Swallow (3)
Black-capped Chickadee (2) – S-curves.
Red-breasted Nuthatch (1) – S-curves.
American Robin (4)
Gray Catbird – common.
Northern Mockingbird (3)
Brown Thrasher (2)
Black-and-white Warbler (1) – S-curves.
Common Yellowthroat – common.
American Redstart – common.
Cape May Warbler (6) – north of Goodno Crossing.
Northern Parula – common.
Magnolia Warbler (4) – 3, S-curves; 1, north of Goodno Crossing.
Bay-breasted Warbler (2) – north of Goodno Crossing.
Blackburnian Warbler (2) – S-curves.
Yellow Warbler – common.
Chestnut-sided Warbler (4) – 2, S-curves; 2, north of Goodno Crossing.
Black-throated Blue Warbler (1) – S-curves.
Yellow-rumped Warbler (~ 10) – thicket at main panne, S-curves, & north.
Goodno Crossing.
Black-throated Green Warbler (~ 7) – S-curves & north of Goodno Crossing.
Canada Warbler (1) – north of Goodno Crossing.
Eastern Towhee – common.
Song Sparrow (3)
White-crowned Sparrow (1) – Location unkown, as it came along in images later!
Northern Cardinal (2)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (1) – female, south of Goodno Crossing.
Indigo Bunting (1) – “1st spring male,” roadside feeding on dandelion
seeds, south of Goodno Crossing (thanks, Tom!).
Red-winged Blackbird – common.
Common Grackle – common.
Brown-headed Cowbird (3)
Orchard Oriole (1) – S-curves.
Baltimore Oriole (4)
Purple Finch (1) – south of Goodno Crossing.
American Goldfinch (2) – S-curves.
House Sparrow

Wednesday Morning Birding Report, May 15, 2019

This Wednesday arrived right in the middle of May, and therefore expectations were high for plenty of neotropical migrants. But we have been expecting the warmth and glory of spring all season, while suffering cold and wet instead. This week was no exception (thank goodness Bird-a-thon day was – The Joppa team found 174 species!). It was in the 40s all morning, and the birds that were here seemed to be hiding, perhaps conserving energy until resources improved.

Orchard Oriole – Stan Deutsch

Dave Weaver and I agreed that the island would be more “dearthy” than inland areas, which might have a few warmer microclimates. So we began at Rough Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary in Rowley, where indeed we were greeted by a robust Orchard Oriole. After enjoying his chipper performance, and hearing a few other species of passerines, we headed out to visit the nest platform that Bill Gette and friends placed several years ago. This year a pair of Great Horned Owls has nested there, and we were able to add the species to this year’s WMB list – but only because we could see what looked like dryer lint above the rim of the platform. It is more satisfying when the young look out at you. If you do go to see if you can get a good look at the nest residents, please help ensure the survival of the young owls by staying only a short while, and standing far back from the birds/platform. Excessive attention can attract predators, and result in loss of the chicks. The problem of photographers “camping out” at owl roosts and nests has become so bad that the “Birding Eastern Mass” Facebook page hosts have had to decree that no one may post photos of owls there, or they will be banned from the site for life. While waiting for the owlet to show at least a closed eyelid (not to happen), we enjoyed finding Great Crested Flycatchers and an Eastern Kingbird among other forest birds.

White Breasted Nuthatches – Bob Minton

We went on to visit Martin Burns Wildlife Management Area in Byfield, via Newman Road in Newbury, where thankfully there was at least one Glossy Ibis, and some nice waders and shorebirds. Martin Burns adds real diversity of habitat to our region due to game management there. Again the birds were quiet, but we did manage to find a few warblers and a spectacular Rose-breasted Grosbeak. The Baltimore Orioles were especially cheery.

Glossy Ibis – Patti Wood
Great Blue Heron and Great Egret – Mike Densmore

Our next stop was at Pikes Bridge Road in West Newbury, where the sound of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers greeted us as we got out of vehicles, as they often do at that spot. There was a very brief song of one Blue-winged Warbler, but even the Swamp Sparrows were silent. Only Canada Geese stood in the wet meadows along Scotland Road, so we returned to Joppa looking forward to what we hope will be a late-season bonanza next week!

Northern-Parula – John Linn
Baltimore Oriole – Bob Minton
Bullfrog – Patti Wood
Bluets – Patti Wood (If the birds don’t like so much wet weather, at least these do!)

Our list:
Canada Goose (~ 12) – Scotland Road.
Wild Turkey (3) – Rowley.
Double-crested Cormorant (1) – Joppa Flats.
Great Blue Heron (1) – Newman Road, Newbury.
Great Egret (2) – Newman Road, Newbury.
Snowy Egret (8) – various, but mostly Newman Road, Newbury.
Glossy Ibis (1) – Newman Road, Newbury.
Turkey Vulture (4) – Rowley.
Osprey (1)
Cooper’s Hawk (1) – Martin Burns WMA, Newbury.
Yellowlegs sp. (~ 7) – Newman Road, Newbury.
Willet (5) – various.
Herring Gull (2) – Rowley.
Rock Pigeon – various.
Mourning Dove (2) – Rowley.
Great Horned Owl (1) – Rough Meadows, Rowley.
Red-bellied Woodpecker (1) – Rough Meadows, Rowley.
Eastern Phoebe (1) – Martin Burns WMA, Newbury.
Great Crested Flycatcher (2) – Rough Meadows, Rowley.
Eastern Kingbird (3) – Rough Meadows, Rowley.
Blue Jay (1) – Rough Meadows, Rowley.
Black-capped Chickadee (3) – Rough Meadows, Rowley.
Tufted Titmouse (2) – Rough Meadows, Rowley.
White-breasted Nuthatch (2) – Rough Meadows, Rowley.
House Wren (1) – FOY, Martin Burns WMA, Newbury.
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (2) – Pikes Bridge Road, W. Newbury.
American Robin – common.
Gray Catbird (1) – Rowley.
Northern Mockingbird (2) – 1, Rowley; 1, Joppa Flats.
Ovenbird (4) – 2, Martin Burns WMA, Newbury; 2, Pikes Bridge Road, W.
Newbury.
Blue-winged Warbler (1) – Pikes Bridge Road, W. Newbury.
Black-and-white Warbler (2) – Pikes Bridge Road, W. Newbury.
Common Yellowthroat – common.
American Redstart (2) – 1, Martin Burns WMA, Newbury; 1, Pikes Bridge Road, W. Newbury.
Northern Parula (2) – 1, Rough Meadows, Rowley; 1, Martin Burns WMA, Newbury.
Yellow Warbler (2) – Pikes Bridge Road, W. Newbury.
Black-throated Blue Warbler (1) – Martin Burns WMA, Newbury.
Eastern Towhee (3) – Martin Burns WMA, Newbury.
Chipping Sparrow (2) – Rough Meadows, Rowley.
Northern Cardinal (2)
Rose-breasted Grosbeak (1) – Martin Burns WMA, Newbury.
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird (2) – 1, Rough Meadows, Rowley; 1, Martin Burns WMA, Newbury.
Orchard Oriole (2) – Rough Meadows, Rowley.
Baltimore Oriole (4) – 1, Rough Meadows, Rowley; 3, Martin Burns WMA, Rowley.

Wednesday Morning Birding Report, May 8, 2019

Red-tailed Hawk – Stan Deutsch

This Wednesday, Susan Yurkus and I led a Wednesday Morning group in anticipation of warblers and other neotropical migrants. Having just returned from Texas, I walked out the door Wednesday morning to warbler song, making me think our part of the world would be very birdy. But Susan had been on our early Wednesday “Dawn Patrol” program, and she’d discovered that it was actually pretty quiet on Plum Island. Still, hopeful, we left Joppa and pulled into parking lot #1 at Parker River National Wildlife refuge, where we enjoyed a full complement of Purple Martins. They were there to soothe us with their soft trills and bright little eyes. Two pairs of Ospreys are nesting on platforms in the North Marsh, and we observed them with interest.

Purple Martin female – Stan Deutsch

The best stop of our day was at the Main Panne. There were no ducks on the water, just a rather concerning number of Mute Swans. But the thicket behind the panne was full of Yellow-rumped Warblers, Yellow Warblers, both Orchard and Baltimore Orioles, and more. (That spot was even more fun to observe later on Wednesday, when we went there on our evening walk. By then, the wind had died and the late light was highlighting a different set of migrants, including Northern Parulas, a Black-throated Green Warbler, and a Blue-headed Vireo.)

Orchard Oriole – Bob Minton

Yellow Warbler – Bob Minton

At the S-curves, the cacophony of neotropical migrants we expected did not materialize. (Maybe they’ll be there Saturday, for Bird-a-thon! Southerly, then westerly winds are forecast…) The Wardens was rather quiet for passerines too, but as we disembarked, Dave Adrienne excitedly pointed us to a Little Blue Heron that was out on the marsh. A very brownish Tree Swallow, probably born last year, brought a feather for the nest of his (?) mate, for a moment fooling us into thinking a Northern Rough-winged Swallow was nesting out there. But there was that bit of iridescent blue starting to come in.

Tree Swallows – Stan Deutsch

Hellcat was a bit more interesting, as there was a duck ;). A grebe in North Pool that we expected from an earlier report had evidently vamoosed. But Yellow Warblers were singing in our favorite copse of trees by the bathrooms, and a female Baltimore Oriole was around, waiting, we imagined, for the super-bright male we named “Champ” last year.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet 2- Mike Densmore


Northern Flicker – Mike Densmore

It really was just a trickle of migrants on this stretch of coast this week, though there really may be a chance that will change tonight. Here’s wishing you a great Bird-a-thon, or whatever you will do this weekend. In case you bypass the email messages I send to announce this report, I invite you to see Joppa’s new video, and to support our Bird-a-thon effort to make all those beautiful things keeping happening.

Our List:
Canada Goose (8) – pairs at various locations.
Mute Swan (6) – Main Panne .
American Black Duck (1) – North Pool.
Wild Turkey (2) – 1, PI Airport; 1, S-curves.
Mourning Dove – common.
Killdeer (4) – 2, Main Panne; 2, Bill Forward Pool.
Greater Yellowlegs (6) – pannes and Wardens.
Willet – common.
Lesser Yellowlegs (18) – various.
Herring Gull – common.
Great Black-backed Gull (4) – North Marsh.
Double-crested Cormorant – common.
Great Blue Heron (2) – North Marsh.
Great Egret (20) – various.
Snowy Egret (1) – South Pannes.
Little Blue Heron (1) – North of Wardens.
Osprey (8) – 4, North Marsh; 3, off of Hellcat; 1, Pines Trail platform.
Northern Harrier (3) – 2, North Marsh; 1, Bill Forward Pool.
Red-tailed Hawk (2) – 1, Joppa Flats; 1, S-curves.
Hairy Woodpecker (1) – S-curves.
Northern Flicker (1) – Dunes Trail swamp.
American Kestrel (1) – Dunes Trail flyover.
Blue Jay (7) – Migrating past parking lot #1.
Purple Martin (15) – parking lot #1.
Tree Swallow – common.
Barn Swallow (25) – some migrating north, others at Wardens setting up shop.
Black-capped Chickadee (3) – 1, parking lot #1; 2, Hellcat.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (1) – Hellcat.
American Robin – common.
Gray Catbird (6) – various.
Brown Thrasher (1) – singing in thicket south of Parking lot #1.
Northern Mockingbird (2) – various.
European Starling – common.
House Sparrow – common.
House Finch (1) – Visitor Center.
Purple Finch (1) – Hellcat.
American Goldfinch – common.
Black-and-white Warbler (1) – S-curves.
Common Yellowthroat (2) – 1, S-curves; 1, Hellcat.
Northern Parula (1) S-curves.
Yellow Warbler (8) – various.
Yellow-rumped Warbler (12) – 10, Main Panne thicket; 2, Hellcat.
Eastern Towhee – common.
Savannah Sparrow (1) – Hellcat.
Song Sparrow – common.
Red-winged Blackbird – common.
Common Grackle – common.
Brown-headed Cowbird (1) – Hellcat.
Orchard Oriole (2) 1, Main Panne thicket; 1, Hellcat.
Baltimore Oriole (2) – 1, Main Panne thicket; 1, Hellcat.

Additional birds Wednesday Evening:
Northern Parula (8) – Main Panne Thicket.
Blue-headed Vireo (1) – Main Panne Thicket.
Black-throated Green Warbler (1) – Main Panne Thicket.