Monthly Archives: September 2017

The Last Rays of Summer

Abigail Adams wrote to John:  “Do you know that European birds have not half the melody of ours?”  Jonathan Rosen, The Life of the Skies 
Last time we finished hoping that the annual Plum Island Tree Swallow invasion would commence in August in large numbers as usual.  Well, they didn’t let us down.  On August 15th I made my way to Plum and as soon as I arrived, I could see thousands of the Tree Swallows just past parking lot #1.
Tree Swallows at Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
from KIM Tree swallows above grass 1
Tree Swallows at Plum Island.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
I slowly made my way along the road until they were all around me and enjoyed an hour photographing and taking video of literally hundreds of thousands of these birds covering the sky.  I did a slow 360 degree turn and all I saw in the sky above were Tree Swallows.  You have to see it to believe it. Photographs and video can never quite capture the awe.  OMG is especially appropriate as you watch this phenomenon…..At times they covered the road and then rose as one as a car would approach and at other times they would congregate on the trees around the area, covering them and from a distance looking like leaves on the trees.
Tree Swallows at Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
 There are seven ‘Wonders of the World.’ I nominate the Tree Swallows of Plum Island as the eighth Wonder of the World – or at least an honorable mention as such. =i_x4j1Y16JI  
   On the way to Plum Island on that Tuesday, August 15th, I decided to check out the tree on Kent St. in Newburyport to see if our favorite Screech Owl, Sylvia, was back.
Screech Owl Sylvia,  Kent St., Newburyport.  Photo by John Harrison.
She left her ‘home’ on Kent St. in late spring and we thought that she was probably gone forever.  But you can never be sure, so I always go to Plum Island via Kent St. and check that tree.  Much to my surprise and joy, as I slowly drove past the tree, there she was, sitting at the edge of the cavity enjoying the warm day.  I pulled over and parked and pulled my tripod out of the car and grabbed my camera and set up. When I got closer and took a good look at her, I could see that she was molting.  She looked kind of goofy.  But she was a sight for sore eyes.
Screech Owl Sylvia.  Photo by John Harrison.
Screech Owl Sylvia.  Photo by John Harrison.
I stayed there for about a half hour, catching a couple of open-eyes moments and some video.  It was a great way to start the day.  A few days later, back at Plum Island, there about a dozen Egrets and a few Great Blue Herons and other shore birds at a tidal pool close to the road.
Egrets, Great Blue Herons and other shorebirds, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
I enjoyed watching them for a while and then continued to Hellcat Trail looking for the Tree Swallows. There were thousands of them, but not the hundreds of thousands that I watched a week before.  On August 26 while driving out of Plum Island, we encountered a juvenile Peregrine Falcon on an antenna at the edge of the marsh.  We were able to watch it for several minutes before it took off.
from KIM Peregrine flight 1
Peregrine Falcon, immature, Plum Island.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
Peregrine Falcon, immature, Plum Island.  Photo by John Harrison.
  A pond in Gloucester was especially active in August.   There were the usual immature Little Blue Herons, four to six of them on most days.  The immatures are all white and look like small Egrets, but as they mature they turn blue with a ‘reddish’ head and neck.  I’ve only seen one adult Little Blue at the pond and when I have seen it it was always on the other side of the pond and not close enough for photos.  But on one of my visits in mid August the adult Little Blue was close and stayed close all the time I was there…..Three hours!
Little Blue Heron, adult, Gloucester.  Photo by John Harrison.
Little Blue Heron, adult, with fish.  Gloucester.  Photo by John Harrison.
It flew from driftwood to driftwood, staying close and occasionally catching a fish or frog.  It was a rare opportunity to catch this adult.  The immature Little Blues flew around catching fish and frogs regularly, so catching that activity was easy.       

from KIM LITTLE BLUE HERON catching second frog facing left
Little Blue Heron with frog, Gloucester.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
from KIM LITTLE BLUE HERON 2 catching second frog
Little Blue heron with frog, Gloucester.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
Little Blue Heron with frog, Gloucester.  Photo by John Harrison. 
  On the last day of August, for the first time at that Gloucester pond, there was a Green Heron, nice and close for hours.  It caught fish several times and, like the Little Blues, flew from driftwood perch to driftwood perch, but always staying close. 
from KIM green heron left with fish 2  
Green Heron with fish, Gloucester.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
Green Heron, Gloucester.  Photo by John Harrison.
  I visited that pond a couple more times into September but didn’t see the Green Heron again, which makes us realize how fortunate we were to see that bird that day.
  There is another very special feature of this pond in Gloucester – two families of River Otters.  If you spend enough time there. you often get a really good, close look at this species.
from KIM otter open mouth
River Otter, Gloucester.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
River Otter, Gloucester.  Photo by John Harrison.
from KIM otters in lily pads
River Otter family, Gloucester.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
On one of my visits, one of the Otter families came close to us four times in a couple of hours.  They would eat and play and bob their heads above the Lily pads.  .  A couple of times one of them climbed up on a driftwood tree trunk.  It was an Otterpalooza!
River Otter on driftwood tree trunk, Gloucester.  Photo by John Harrison.

 Meanwhile the Little Blue Herons, and the Green Heron that day, would fly around unperturbed by the Otters churning the water.  It was Mother Nature at her most interesting.

  Every Labor Day is the last day of the Birds Of Prey show at the Stone Zoo.  We attended one of the performances that day and said goodbye to the wonderful birds until next season.  We were informed that the show will be back next year so we have another season of these birds to look forward to in 2018.  (Opening)  (Barn Owl)  (Golden Eagle)  (Military Macaws) (African Pied Crow)  In the few days after Labor Day, Jeff Meshach, Assistand Director of the World Bird Sanctuary and his staff prepare the birds for their truck ride back to their home in Valley Park, MO.57BIRDSOFPREYSHOWBALDEAGLEXXXXMONSEPT0420171726 3725

Birds Of Prey show, Stone Zoo, Labor Day.  Photo by John Harrison.
from KIM Riley take off of glove
Riley the Barn Owl, Birds of Prey show.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
from KIM golden eagle head shot
Golden Eagle, Birds of Prey show.  Photo by Kim Nagy.
  Friday, September 8th was the annual Eastern MA Hawk Watch meeting, at the Woburn Elks lodge. They keynote speaker this year was Kevin Karlson, who spoke about his new book, with renowned bird author Peter Dunne, Birds of Prey: Hawks, Eagles, Falcons and Vultures of North America.
Kevin Karlson, co-author of Birds of Prey Hawks, Eagles Falcons and Vultures of North America. Photo by John Harrison.
President Ted Mara opened the meeting with a gift of appreciation to past president Ursula Goodine. Medford’s birds of prey expert, Paul Roberts, was on hand for the meeting, as well as Vice President Shawn Carey and officers Eric Smith, Steve Olson and Rod Chase.  The meeting ended with the annual raffle with prizes donated by hawk watch members.  For information on this organization 
Ursula Goodine, past president of the Eastern MA Hawk Watch.  Photo by John Harrison.
Eric Smith (L) and Mark Wilson of Eyes On Owls with his photograph of the famous Newport, NH Great Gray Owl that he donated to the raffle.  Photo by John Harrison.
  Fall migrant warblers are being seen – in small numbers – at the various venues in the area.  Fall migration is never nearly as spectacular as spring migration but hopefully by the next installment we will have seen more action from them.  Thus far my only fall migrant sighting has been a Red-eyed Vireo on the sweet bay magnolia trees at Mount Auburn Cemetery.
Red-eyed Vireo, Mount Auburn Cemetery.  Photo by John Harrison.
Photographer Jim Renault, however,  has had some fall migrant encounters lately and some other interesting catches.  Fall migrants are past their spring breeding plumage.  I have inserted a spring version of a Black-throated Green Warbler next to Jim’s fall version to see the difference.
from JIM BTG w spring version fx DUNBACK CE8A0718 
Black-throated Green Warbler, Dunback Meadow.  Photo by Jim Renault.
The spring version is much richer. That is the case with many – but not all –  migrant species.   
Oystercatchers, Belle Isle Marsh.  Photo by Jim Renault.  
Oystercatchers in flight, Belle Isle Marsh.  Photo by Jim Renault.  
Black & White Warbler, female, Dunback Meadow.  Photo by Jim Renault.  
Kingfisher, Belle Isle Marsh.  Photo by Jim Renault.
from JIM fx Northern Waterthrush Mystic Lakes Aug. 29 2017
Northern Waterthrush, Mystic Lakes.  Photo by Jim Renault. 
Common Yellowthroat, immature, Dunback Meadow.  Photo by Jim Renault.  
Carolina Wren, Dunback Meadow.  Photo by Jim Renault.  
   With the coming of fall and winter not far away, we all ask that post-September question, “Will there be Snowies?”  We hope that for the fourth year in a row, Rocky, our favorite Rye Beach Snowy Owl, will winter over there.  That magnificent owl seems to like that beach.  We’ll be waiting for ya, Rocky.
Snowy Owl, Rocky, Rye Beach.  Photo by John Harrison.
Snowy Owl, Rocky, Rye Beach.  Photo by John Harrison.