WORDS ON BIRDS
Eagles and Owls Delight Birders
January 20, 2018
joined me last Sunday for the January edition of our Newburyport and
vicinity “Eagles and Owls” field trip. I told the group that we
would focus on bald eagles, snowy owls and, if we were lucky,
short-eared or other owls. I further explained that there should
also be many ducks and other winter birds to see. I asked the
youngest, a lad of about ten named Quinn, what he wanted to see and
he said “short-eared owl.” Of course I hadn’t seen a short-eared owl
in more than a month, so it would be a challenge.
Five cars headed out on a partly sunny afternoon, with pleasant
temperatures rising to the low twenties and very little wind. Our
first stop was Cashman Park along the Merrimack River in downtown
Newburyport. A small group of ring-billed gulls greeted us along
with a few mallards and Canada geese.
A little further out in the river were red-breasted mergansers,
bufflehead and common goldeneyes. A single common merganser was seen
by many on the far bank be fore it flew upriver and out of sight.
I then got my scope on an adult and an
immature bald eagle that were perched together across and a little
further up the river on the left side of Ram Island. Everyone got
great looks at these majestic birds.
All scopes were trained on the eagles when another immature bald
eagle flew down river toward us. It circled right in front of us,
about fifty yards out, and dove down and scooped a fish with its
large talons! Young Quinn even got video on his camera of the event.
The eagle flew to the other side of the river and several of us
watched if land in a tree and proceed to devoir its prey.
As we continued to watch the eagles and the ducks, we also spotted
two red-tailed hawks perched across the river. Crows were cawing
behind us, and then we all heard the nasal “uh-oh” of a fish crow!
The smaller fish crows have become more common in and around
Newburyport and have even nested nearby Cashman Park.
We continued toward Plum Island and during a brief stop at the boat
ramp at Joppa Park on Water Street we found another adult bald eagle
some distance away on the ice. Along with a large number of mallard
and black ducks we found two gadwall and a half dozen pintails flew
in. The latter stayed long enough for all to get good looks at them
and then took off again for parts unknown.
Once on the Parker River Refuge on Plum Island, we stopped at
parking lot 1 and could see a gathering of people across at the boat
launch. Through our scopes we could see a snowy owl sitting out on
Not far from the owl was
another immature bald eagle that was also sitting in the marsh,
apparently feeding on something. A harrier circled the eagle and
tried to tempt it away from it s prey but the larger raptor just
shooed it away. As we watched the eagle and harrier, a second snowy
owl flew in from the south and landed on an osprey platform out on
We continued down the
island finding zero birds along the way – not even a sparrow or a
robin! At the Hellcat parking lot, we went up on the dike and one
participant spotted a snowy owl perched on the north dike! Another
person spotted yet another snowy further along the same dike just
visible over the phragmites.
some sharp eyes saw a short-eared owl hunting behind us, far down on
the south dike. We attempted to get everyone a closer view following
its moth-like flight in the available scopes.
Since the short-eared owl was Quinn’s request at the beginning of
the trip, I lowered my scope down to his level and made several
tries of passing off the scope to him to look through at the owl.
Then, Quinn was finally able to see it. “I can even see its face!”
he exclaimed. Mission accomplished!
After another participant keenly spotted a rough-legged hawk perched
a couple of miles away on the osprey platform at Cross Farm Hill, we
packed up and head back off the island. Leaving the refuge, the
wires were lined with starlings, rock pigeons and mourning doves.
Turning down the causeway and over the bridge we came upon yet
another snowy owl perched atop the chimney of the pink house on the
Plum Island Turnpike! The bird seemed to glow in the late afternoon
sun, and provided an appropriate finale to a great afternoon of
eagles and owls!
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