WORDS ON BIRDS
Signs of Spring in February
February 24, 2018
here! Well, not quite. But the early signs are there – especially if
you observe the birds. Flocks of red-winged blackbirds, common
grackles, and brown-headed cowbirds are arriving already and,
although some may think they are early this year, they are right on
Flocks of blackbirds always
arrive in mid to late February, and we almost always have snow after
their first arrival. It still seems strange to hear the “konker-ree”
of redwings singing on territory in the marshes while snow coats the
grasses that aren’t even green yet. And with the arrival of
grackles, the complaints of them overtaking the bird feeders will
soon surpass the complaints about squirrels.
A few other early spring migrants have made their way to Essex
County this past week as well. Tom Wetmore watched a woodcock fly in
off the ocean at Lot 1 on Plum Island and land on a nearby sand
dune! Woodcock have been reported elsewhere in the county and into
New Hampshire as well.
We saw a
couple of turkey vultures during the Eagle Festival in Newburyport
last Saturday and I saw a kettle of five vultures circling over
downtown Essex on Monday. The first killdeer have arrived to area
fields. Chickadees and titmice are singing their spring songs and
one customer told me that bluebirds were already checking out last
year’s nesting box!
goldeneye and bufflehead courtship displays at Cashman Park during
my bird walk last Sunday. They were throwing their heads back and
forth, trying to impress their potential mates. Pairs of red-tailed
hawks were soaring together, perhaps beginning their early spring
courtship. Further up the Merrimack River, eagles were reportedly
bringing sticks to their nest already.
Despite these hints of spring, we still have New England weather
reminding us that winter is not over. The number of wintering eagles
still in the area, as well as wintering ducks and loons, remind us
that the lakes and rivers up north are likely still frozen. Along
with the courting ducks at Cashman Park, we saw a wintering
red-throated loon there, and a wintering common loon was further up
river. A half dozen common loons were in the ocean off the Salisbury
Jetty later in the day along with a continuing large flock of common
eider. We had good looks at surf scoters still on the ocean while a
pair of wintering thick-billed murres was swimming together closer
Also at the Salisbury
Beach State Reservation, a flock of snow buntings flew by us as we
watched three adults and one immature bald eagle in the marsh. Two
of the adult eagles were tussling with each other - likely a
territorial dispute. A male harrier (also referred to as a gray
ghost) and two female harriers were also hunting the marsh that
Further evidence of
winter lingering was a dark-morphed rough-legged hawk perched on a
small island in the middle of the marsh. And, if there was doubt
that winter was still with us, a snowy owl was perched more than
half way out of the Salisbury Jetty.
Still, we have witnessed snowy owls and other wintering raptors
lingering into May, so I am optimistic for spring. I choose to dwell
on the chickadee’s new song and the house-hunting bluebirds, and the
other promising signs that spring will arrive. It always does.
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