WORDS ON BIRDS
Fall Shorebird Migration is Commencing
July 15, 2017
By Steve Grinley
like we are just getting into summer, so it is hard to believe that
the fall migration has started already for some of the shorebirds.
Small flocks of least sandpipers and short-billed dowitchers have
already been seen on Plum Island and in Newburyport Harbor. A stilt
sandpiper in breeding plumage was seen this week in the Salt Pannes
near lot 3 on Plum Island.
our shorebirds nest on the arctic tundra and migrate all the way to
South America, so they tend to get an early start. Late July and
August is the peak migration time for shorebirds heading south along
the Massachusetts coast. Places like South Beach in Chatham and
Monomoy Island on Cape Cod as well as Duxbury and Plymouth Beaches
on the South Shore are popular spots to watch shorebirds as they
stop to feed en route.
Some of the
best shorebirding in the Northeast can be found right here in Essex
County. The thousands of acres of tidal marshes and flats are are an
oasis for tired, hungry shorebirds. Our Great Marsh stretches from
Salisbury and Newburyport Harbor to the Parker River and its
estuaries in Newbury and Rowley and to the coastal marshes of
Ipswich and Essex, Shorebirds stop to rest and feed on the
crustacean rich mud flats and salt pans throughout this area.
The best time to watch shorebirds along
the rivers and harbor is when the tide is ebbing or, better still,
with the incoming tide as the birds move closer to you as you watch.
About four hours before or after high tide is a good rule of thumb.
Low tide generally has the birds too dispersed or too far out on the
mud flats for you to view well.
best vantage points for Newburyport harbor is from the seawall at
Joppa Park on Water Street or from the Massachusetts Audubon Joppa
Flats property at the beginning of the Plum Island Causeway. Greater
and lesser yellowlegs, black-bellied and semipalmated plovers, least
and semipalmated sandpipers, short and long billed dowitchers are
all common migrants that frequent the harbor mud flats in migration.
Western sandpipers or marbled and Hudsonian godwits may be found
there in the weeks ahead. The north end of Plum Island provides good
views of the mussel beds that often attract Hudsonian godwits or a
wayward American oystercatcher.
high tide, the shorebirds move to salt pan areas, shallow pools of
water amid the tidal marshes. Areas along either side of the Plum
Island Causeway are good places to scan for shorebirds during high
tide. On the Parker River Refuge on Plum Island, salt pans are
scattered throughout the marsh all along the west side of the road.
These are especially good spots to get closer views of white-rumped
and Western sandpipers and an occasional phalarope. The Bill Forward
Pool behind the Hellcat Swamp nature trail on the refuge has a
lowered water level this year and is already attracting some
shorebirds during high tide. Many dowitchers, stilt sandpipers and
even a buff-breasted sandpiper may been seen there in the coming
weeks. An added bonus to the Bill Forward Pool is the collection of
herons, egrets and glossy ibis that stop and feed there, especially
in the early morning or evening.
Further south on the refuge is Stage Island Pool where more
shorebirds collect when the water level is low enough to expose the
mud flats. So far this year, the water level in this pool has not
been lowered for the shorebirds. Stage Island Pool has historically
been an excellent spot to view Baird's, buff-breasted, and stilt
sandpipers as well as the threatened red knots.
Looking out toward Emerson Rocks from the first parking lot at Sandy
Point State Park, or a walk out to the beach from the last lot at
the southern tip of the island may turn up a piping plover in the
sand or black-bellied plovers and sanderlings along the water's
Wherever you choose to look at
shorebirds, be sure to bring your binoculars and a spotting scope if
you have one. Many of these birds are often far enough away to
require more than the naked eye to see detail. A good field guide
will help you differentiate the many species. You can also join an
organized trip out of the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center
in Newburyport. Also, the Brookline Bird Club leads free trips in
our area that can be found at
However you go, there is usually an
abundance of shorebirds in our area over the next couple of months,
which increases your chances of getting great views of these birds!
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194 Route 1
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