WORDS ON BIRDS
Autumn Birding Brings Surprises
October 28, 2017
The air is
crisp once again, the foliage is peaking locally, and the birds
around us are changing. Many of the summer birds have left. Strings
of cormorants can be seen migrating across the skies along with
formations of Canada geese.
of the winter birds have already begun to arrive including juncos,
tree sparrows and a few siskins. Short-eared owls have seen sighted
in eastern Mass, but none reported yet from Plum Island.
A northern shrike was seen in central Massachusetts already. A
sissor-tailed flycatcher was found on Cape Cod and an ash-throated
flycatcher, common in the Southwest, was discovered in Middleton.
A varied thrush from the western United
States was seen feeding with a flock of robins in Scituate.
The weather, for the most part, has given us reason to be outdoors
this fall season. Autumn is always a time that birders look for the
unexpected. Plum Island is a predictable favorite in this season, as
more species of ducks arrive and many less usual fall migrants show
up. Ten years ago, Doug Chickering of Groveland shared with us one
October visit to Plum Island - one that could easily happen today:
"Occasionally events arise in our
non-birding life that intrude upon our weekends and clutter our
usual birding schedule. Therefore, on this alternating fine and
gloomy October day, Lois Cooper and I only had time for a morning
visit to Plum Island and could not participate in the wild goose
chase that is the rage these last few weeks. We weren't expecting
much. Except for the various interesting geese and the possibility
of a rare gull, things seemed very quiet. Yet I am fully aware that
the last few weeks of October and first few weeks of November can
spring the most extraordinary surprises.
"Besides, the foliage was near its peak, which is reason to be out
and about all on its own. Almost by instinct and almost by default
we headed for Plum Island. In the changing light of clouds and
breaks in clouds the turning foliage ranged from the first traces of
color along the fringes of summer green, all the way up to tall
trees ablaze in varied reds and yellows and golds, some in
spectacular combinations too breathtaking and too subtle to lend to
any description. This fall's color got off to an unpromising start
around here, but with some heavy rains it quickly turned to a
burnished, fresh brilliance exceeding anything that sits in my
"At Plum Island things
started slowly. There was nothing at the boat ramp, the usual
mixture of black ducks, wigeon and yellowlegs in the Pannes, and a
few startled sparrows and junco jumping up from the grass at the
side of the road. We did stop by the double oaks in the S curves
where there was a small flurry of activity, but even that turned out
to be a pair of downy woodpeckers and a smattering of the ubiquitous
myrtle (yellow-rumped) warblers.
"Our fortunes changed markedly when we joined Ann and Gary Gurka and
TomWetmore at the North Pool overlook. Along with ducks and geese
and a hunting Harrier, there was a pair of long-billed dowitchers
and a pair of pipits in the greenery between the cattails and the
water, and two lively American golden plover in the field. We also
had an eastern meadowlark in the Town Marker field. He alternated
between feeding in the low grass and perching on a weed, displaying
his bright yellow breast and filling the air with a song that was
slightly muted but with its unmistakable, crystal-clear keening
tone. For me the call seemed slightly out of place - a lovely
haunting echo from a distant spring. Unexpected but welcome. There
are few birds that I find as wistfully evocative as a singing
"While watching the
meadowlark through my scope I had one of those strange quick moments
in birding when something flew through the field of view. Something
that immediately snatches one's attention. Of course, I wasn't
looking at it, but I did almost see it. It was dark and about the
size of a catbird, maybe a little smaller. I couldn't identify it,
but it immediately struck me as something different. Tom Wetmore
caught sight of the bird as well, and it struck him the same way,
but he had the presence of mind to follow it in flight while I
returned to my meadowlark.
a shrike," Tom announced as he followed his bird to the top of one
of the trees at the edge of the dike.
"In a few minutes we all had our scopes focused on a nice immature
northern shrike. The first shrike of the season. So there it was.
From a final lament of a call from last spring to one of the first
birds of the approaching winter. October for sure. I wonder what the
November surprise will be this year."
Bird Watcher's Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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