WORDS ON BIRDS
Harbingers of Spring Are Upon Us
March 04, 2017
blackbirds are already singing in the marshes and both redwings and
grackles were visiting our feeders here at the store. This return of
the blackbirds is pretty much on schedule with their late February
arrival. Soon these marauders will be overtaking some feeders, so
you may want to dig out your grackle-resistant feeders now before
the larger numbers arrive.
have been many reports of woodcock “peenting” in the evening on Plum
Island and in area fields, and a few woodcock already performing
their spring courtship ritual. Even a few of the goldfinches are
starting to show some extra yellow in the face and throat. Customers
have told me that their snowdrops have already started to bloom.
These are signs of spring and, despite this weekend’s cold, it will
be here soon enough.
spring robins and bluebirds are arriving, but it was the first
killdeer of the season that could be heard last week flying and
calling around the store. Now, when I hear a killdeer I think of
spring according to Doug Chickering.
For the faithful readers of this column, you may remember that it is
not the first robin or woodcock that herald spring for Doug
Chickering of Groveland. His spring harbinger is the killdeer. More
reliable than the groundhog that doesn’t see his shadow, when Doug
sees his first killdeer of the season, we can be sure that spring is
at hand. Doug describes one year’s moment:
“We bird both by eye and by ear; and occasionally the two are not
directly coordinated. This can lead to a nice thrilling moment.
Today I had my scope set up at the platform at Emerson Rocks on Plum
Island and was scanning the area. The rocks themselves were slowly
slipping below the rising tide and I had hoped to find a Purple
Sandpiper or two.
“It was warm and
nearly windless this late morning. It was also a strange weather
day. There were passing holes in the cloud cover creating occasional
splashes of sunlight mixed with intermittent light rain. As I picked
over the rocks I was only vaguely aware of the bird sounds around
me. Then a sound intruded into my consciousness; a lone careening
cry. Somewhere deep in my memory it sounded like-- well-- like a
“I stood up from my scope
and began to search the skies in front of me. The sound seemed to
come from the ocean. Could it have been some anomalous gull cry?
After a few minutes of silence I returned to the birds in front of
me. No shore birds among the rocks so I started to pick through the
many clusters of various sea birds. Eider, Oldsquaw, White-winged
Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, a few Goldeneye, a scattering of
Horned Grebes and then... that sound again.
This time a single high cry to my right. It repeated. And then I saw
the form among the driftwood on the sands. A Killdeer, no doubt. It
stood on the beach, facing out to the sea emitting an occasional
single plaintive Killdeer cry. Was it calling to a friend or calling
out in triumph of having successfully made the journey? When Tom
Wetmore arrived I got him on it and he was a surprised as I. We
watched and speculated until it took flight and headed inland.
“It wasn't much of a winter. Sure there
were all those Snowy Owls. Lots of Razorbills and Kittiwakes, a
fairly reliable Rough-legged Hawk and that characteristically
unreliable Northern Shrike. But it was a winter of no snow, no real
freeze-ups; devoid of winter finches. It has been a winter where
ducks who should have long ago made good their escape from frozen
ponds and blizzards, hung around as if they knew that what freezes
did occur wouldn't last long. I had Redheads today. And now this. A
Killdeer which I consider to be the first bird of spring.
“I look for this bird in the first two weeks of March and really
expect to see it around the spring equinox. I have never had it in
February. A Killdeer at the technical last quarter of winter is not
that surprising for Nantucket or Chatham, but Essex County? I don't
know whether to be thrilled or appalled. Is this the beginning of
spring or the end of the world?”
Bird Watcher's Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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