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.

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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