May is a magical month for birders in New England. Like gardeners poring over seed catalogs in the depths of winter, birders dream of the colorful days of May when trees drip with warblers, the jewels of spring. As suddenly as warbler season begins it is just as suddenly over, making strategy key in glimpsing as many of these little gems as possible before they move on. So while they are making their journey north, we head south.
Our 2018 warbler watch began with a trip to one of the country’s most productive birding spots, Parker River Wildlife Preserve in Newburyport, MA (often referred to more generally as Plum Island). In a sweet few hours we picked up eight of the nine warbler species of the day. The ninth, was also the first of the day.
Before leaving home in the morning we learned through eBird of several sightings of a Yellow-throated Warbler in Cape Elizabeth, a southern Maine coastal town. It was only a little out of our way and well worth the gamble. We were not disappointed. Thanks to several other birders gathered in the spot, we immediately found this striking fellow and delighted in the show he put on as he gleaned insects from leaves, bark, sky and seaweed rafts. He was joined by other species of warbler, many of which we saw again later in the day at Plum Island.
While enjoying lunch in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on the way south, we searched the Web for advice on where best to find warblers at Plum Island. That advice led to our first warblers.
Being such a birding hotspot, birders are among friends at Parker River. The several miles long road is bordered by salt marsh on one side and mixed habitat scrub and sand dunes on the other. When the bird activity is high, one only need to look at where birders are gathered on the road to find them. This next stop turned up a few more.
Plum Island isn’t just about warblers, throughout both days we were treated with soaring raptor.
Upon our return the next morning before rain set in and called an early end to the birding day, the purple martin houses turned up an easy target…none other than a….drumroll please….purple martin. And singing from the top of a tree was another first of the year bird. Minutes later we saw a Brown Thrasher, Spotted Towhee and a Baltimore Oriole.
While birding another patch, we observed a fellow birder return to his car and pull a spotting scope from his trunk. He trained it on a large, stationary object across the marsh. So often this turns up a post, plastic bottle or the like. But today, in May of all months, it was a snowy owl!! Ethan quipped, “Where else can you see a snowy owl and warblers on the same day?” The answer is, the Arctic!
In addition to the warblers, raptors and song birds listed above . . . Plum Island is a cornicopia of bird species. At times one doesn’t know where to look.
We had a great weekend – adding a bird to our life list, the Yellow-throated Warbler, a bird rarely seen north of New Jersey and we added eleven birds to our year list. A great start to our May birding!