Friday, August 10, 2012
Parker River NWR, Newburyport, MA - April, 21, 2012
Here's another belated post for anyone interested. Hopefully this blog will pick up some steam as the deadline for the 2013 Young Birder of the Year Contest chugs ever closer and I become increasingly worried with how little work I've done. By request of Jennie Duberstien (editor of the ABA Young Birders Blog) I need to tell you that this post is currently posted on the aforementioned blog (aka "The Eyrie").
Peering through our binos we silently waved our optics over the mudflats that confronted us and on which sat hundreds upon hundreds of birds. We were standing on the side of Water Street in Newburyport Massachusetts, five miles from the New Hampshire border. Before us was the mouth of the Merrimac River, currently experiencing that well known happening caused by the moon: low tide.
Screaming gulls wheeled pellmell over the mud. Below them paced dainty tarsused Greater Yellowlegs which dwarfed the Dunlin that scuttled shyly below them. Behind them in the open water floated Gadwalls and at least 500 Long-tailed Ducks decked out in their summer plumages, the males in a black and brown which made for a sharp contrast next to the white cheeks and belly, while the females were plain and unadorned. It was 7:30am and in the 19 minutes we spent scanning the water we scored 19 species.
I had been waiting for this day for weeks, our grandparents, the Goodchilds, had kindly volunteered to take us to that famed marsh Plum Island, and now we were only five minutes from its main entrance. But we had one more quick stop to make before passing over the golden bridge (which is not literally golden).
The birds called and we had to obey. Pulling up into the parking lot of Joppa Flats Audubon Sanctuary the aforementioned calling birds were clearly visible on the preserves namesake mudflats.
Joppa Flats is comprised of a parking lot, an Osprey nesting platform (currently unoccupied and up for rent), 40 or so square feet of land and a whale sized visitor center. It is a well known attraction for birders, drawing them in like hummingbirds to a blossoming grove of scarlet blooms. Like the birds the birders love the mudflats which rise up from the mouth of the Merrimac when low tide comes around again. Of course the water is the substance rising and falling - the mud just gives the appearance of doing so.
The aerial gulls floated overhead dwarfing the Tree Swallows that flitted here and there. The Long-tailed Ducks, which I will hitherto refer to them as Oldsquaw as I prefer this older, not politically correct name because it sounds cooler, were still clearly visible in the open water further out. Closer at hand the Dunlin and Greater Yellowlegs scuttled. Seeing that the view from here was pretty much the same view our eyes received while scanning from Water Street, we started the car’s engine up and as the rubber tires whirred over the tarmac we passed over the salt marsh that cuts Plum off from the mainland by way of a bridge and entered Newbury, the town which contains most of Plum Island and almost all the birds staying or living on it.
The next few hours passed in a blur of feathers and binoculars. Singing Savannah Sparrows and a flock of Dunlin at the main entrance were quickly followed by a pair of Brown Thrashers by the salt pannes, next a pair of Fish Crows and a flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers whizzed passed our creeping car.
Towhees sang from the side of the road, outnumbered by the jousting Song Sparrows, who, in their turn, were outnumbered by the Grackles, who flew hither and thither in chaotic disorder.
We picked up the Snowy Owl at Hellcat Swamp mere yards from where we had seen the same bird along with another of these omnipotent aves last December. It was quite amusing, considering the birds namesake, to look at this beautiful creature, resting proudly on a pole in the marsh, then looking past its brilliantly white feathers we saw heat waves writhing and twisting in the distance, giving the far side of the marsh and the few dilapidated shacks that rested there, a watery and opaque semblance.
We were awakened from our reverie of the feathered snow king by the cluck of a gobbler. A female Turkey had, as we watched the owl, snuck up behind us and was now peacefully feeding in the grass on the dike’s eastern side. She was a beautiful creature and although she didn’t get the wild-eyed audience of the birders full attention that the owl claimed, it was with a fascinated gaze that we watched as the big tame bird in her wanderings along the dike, and, where the grass had been worn away, take a dust bath, sending particles of loam free-wheeling into the air.
Forty five minutes and 1 Hermit Thrush later, we reached Stage Island, arguably the highlight of this trip. Floating in the salty waters of the Stage Island Pool were 4 Northern Shovelers, always good birds in New England, and a knob of Green-winged Teal, a flush of Gadwall, a team of American Black-Ducks and a daggle of Mallards. We couldn’t find the Redheads reported that day in the mass of waterfowl.
We reached Sandy Point all to soon for my liking but here we took a short walk down to investigate the beach. We didn’t see the nesting Pipers, but we did have some more Oldsquaw and a few Common Eider.
Returning back down the road we picked up a brace of Ruddy Duck hiding in the reeds of Stage Island Pool and only visible from Cross Farm Hill.
It was a memorable trip and one that in many years will still be fresh in my mind.
To cap off the wonderful day we stopped by the Parker River Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. After looking at the displays and watching a long, boring video on the ecosystem of Plum Island (during which not one but both of my grandparents fell asleep), we regarded the checklist of birds occurring on the NWR and were shocked to learn that such birds as Wild Turkey, Ruddy Duck and Tufted Titmouse, all species we had seen that day, were as supposedly as rare as Gyrfalcon on the island. How mind-bogglingly peculiar!
The days lists: