Plum Island, Massachusetts: Parker River National Wildlife Refuge

by John Briggs on August 21, 2006

in Blog

Finally a little time to post about our trip to Plum Island, [tag]Massachusetts[/tag] on August 12th. Have been very busy at work as of late, working 12-13 hour days.

Those of you who live in Massachusetts and [tag]New Hampshire[/tag] should be on the look-out along [tag]coastal[/tag] waters for a very rare visitor to the USA. A Western Reef Heron has been hanging around the islands just off Kittery Point, [tag]Maine[/tag] (in Maine waters) this weekend. The above link also has some great [tag]pictures[/tag]! It is only a matter of time before this rare visitor moves along on his migration. This sighting is only the second or third time this species has been sighted in the USA!

Now on to the Plum Island trip…

Tree Swallows Just after sunrise on Saturday August 12th, we arrived at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge on Plum Island, Massachusetts.

The [tag]weather[/tag] was spectacular! Clear skies, light winds and cool temperatures greeted us.

After passing through the gate to the refuge, imagine our surprise when we encountered hundreds of Tree Swallows on the road. What they were doing or why they were there is still a mystery to us, but I surmise that maybe they were warming themselves in the early morning sunlight, as the morning was very cool. I estimated that between 500 and 600 Tree Swallows were on the ground and in the air in this area.

Tree SwallowAll throughout the day, Tree Swallows were everywhere, hundreds of them flying here and there.

The tree swallow is a diurnal migrant and birds often congregate in large flocks during the early evening to share nocturnal roosts usually located in dense woody and emergent vegetation.

Flocking behavior along the outer coast of Massachusetts is a well-documented phenomenon with some flocks estimated in the hundreds of thousands as birds gather to exploit ripening bayberry and insect swarms.

Tree swallows are able to return to their breeding grounds earlier than other swallow species due to their ability to subsist on fruit. In [tag]New England[/tag], tree swallows arrive on territories in early April.

Just after the main road turns to gravels, we spotted some deer in the high grass. As I was setting up to get some pictures, we heard a commotion on the hill west of us. Three Broad-Winged Hawks were flying around at each other. As one would land in the field, the other two would dive-bomb it. We watched this activity for quite some time before they settled down, after which they sat in the field to preen.

I tried to get some footage with my camcorder, but the action was just a little to far away. Watching through the binoculars was excellent! (If only I had my scope!)

Fledgling Mockingbird Our next stop was the Hellcat Wildlife Observation Area.

As we were walking the trail to the observation tower, we spied a fledgling Mockingbird.

He allowed a few photos to be taken along with some [tag]video[/tag], and then we were on our way.



Video clip of a Fledgling Mockingbird

When we arrived at the observation tower, the pond below the tower was a flurry of activity. Canadian Geese, Cormorants, Egrets and Herons were feeding. We even watched as a Snowy Egret tried to chase away a Double-Crested Cormorant as seen in this next video.

Video clip of a Geese, Cormorants and Snowy Egrets Feeding

Many ducks were seen throughout the refuge, including Blue and Green Winged Teals, Pintails, Mallards and Black ducks. Most were feeding in the many pannes of the marsh, others were busy preening. This next video clip shows a few ducks in one of the pannes, cruising around looking for food.

Video clip of a Ducks cruising and feeding in a pond

Adult MockingbirdAs we were leaving the Hellcat area, another mockingbird, this time an adult, posed long enough for a few [tag]photos[/tag].

The songs of 36 other species were recognized from the recording of one mockingbird in Massachusetts.Birds in the western part of the species’ range have less musical songs and are less imitative. Mockingbirds are strongly territorial and, like a number of other birds, will attack their reflection in a window, hubcap, or mirror, at times with such vigor that they injure or kill themselves. At mating time, the male Northern Mockingbird becomes increasingly exuberant, flashing his wings as he flies up in an aerial display, or singing while flying from one song post to another.Adult Mockingbird Flying

Many Mockingbirds were seen on this journey, including this one who flew straight at the camera!

It is not a pin sharp picture, but you get the idea. Surprised me when I viewed the photo the first time!

When my wife and I visited Wild Birds Unlimited in [tag]Portland[/tag], Maine a few weeks ago, we witnessed first hand the many sounds a mockingbird can imitate.

The [tag]bird[/tag] we saw did every bird sound my wife did, and then countinued with a car alarm sound. It was simply amazing to watch this Mockingbird imitate the sounds my wife made. I love watching them in-flight, flashing the tell-tale white bullseye patches under their wings. At times they can be friendly, allowing you to appraoch within a reasonable distance.

Semipalmated Sandpiper Our trip ended with a stroll along the beach on Plum Island. We saw many Plovers and Sandpipers. Black-Backed Gulls were also plentiful. My wife found a few sand dollars while roaming the [tag]beach[/tag].

The time had come to leave with the rewards of watching many species of birds doing what they do best. Leaving us in awe at the amazing beauty and complexity of [tag]nature[/tag].

[tag]Birding[/tag] is what we do, what we live for, it is never a dull moment! What some may think as a day wasted birding when only a few common species are seen, we take it in stride when this happens to us. We are grateful to be able to get out and about, seeing, feeling and experiencing nature in all her glory!

Happy birding!

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