Date: 7/26/17 11:35 am From: DOUGLAS E CHICKERING <dovekie...> Subject: [MASSBIRD] Some Mid-summer Notes
Today the target bird turned out to be Hudsonian Godwit. When Lois and I started out this morning we naturally went to Plum Island but didn’t really have a definite target bird. That all changed when I stranger pulled up beside me in his car. I was looking in the bushes by the second large oak in the S Curves, watching a peculiar looking passerine that I eventually decided was a very young Towhee. He asked me what I was looking at and then casually informed me he had just come from Hellcat and there was an Hudsonian Godwit in the Bill Forward pool. Of course, this immediately reached the status of target bird and Lois and I headed to Hellcat. Up on the main dike leading to the tower at Hellcat I met two of my birding friends, Bob Murphy and Steve Babbit. Steve pointed out the Godwit, feeding furiously just beyond the central sandy island in the middle of the Bill Forward pool. The lighting was problematical and the distance would have challenged binocula! rs but not my scope. It was clearly a godwit; the size of the bird and the long slightly upturned bill were diagnostic. Some further careful scrutiny was able to eliminate a possible Marbled Godwit. It was back to us occasionally and frequently plunging its beak into the water and displaying white undertail coverts and lower belly. The rest of the bird just appeared dark. No doubt, Hudsonian Godwit and not only my first of the year but the first one I can remember seeing reported.
While watching the Godwit we were somewhat surprised when a Least Bittern flew from the North Pool, skimming the top of the dike, only a few yards away and then flying straight into the phrags of Bill Forward Pool. Bob and Steve remarked the bird had been flying back and forth between the two pools occasionally for a while. Shortly after the Bittern disappeared into the phrags we could hear a second Least Bittern, calling from the vegetation in the south-east corner of the North Pool. The chaps assured me this too had been going on before I arrived. Steve even told me of a report of someone seeing three Least Bitterns in the area. Least Bittern has been active here for a couple of weeks now; reminiscent of several decades ago and a welcome repeat of those days.
About a half hour later Lois and I pulled into the North Pool Overlook which overlooks the north end of the North Pool. I hauled out my scope for I wanted to scan the cattails on the opposite side of the pool where the Swallows like to congregate. I was hoping I might score a Rough-winged Swallow, which has eluded me all year. Just as I started to scan the other side a Least Bittern flew out of the cattails and down the edge then flew back into the heavy foliage. My immediate thought was “how many Least Bitterns are there in the North Pool anyway?” The North Pool is fairly extensive but not exceptionally large as fresh water marshes go. And if I saw two and hear one in under an hour I can only wonder how many are there throughout the marsh.
A while back I saw an unusual (for me) sight at the Pans on Plum Island. There was a Least Tern feeding there, as they are apt to do. I deduce that they are probably nesting on the beach just to the east of the Pans for one can see them feeding in the Pans shallows pretty regularly. However, this particular Least Tern seems to have offended a few of the Tree Swallows that also proliferate this area. They attacked him constantly and mercilessly as he attempted to feed so much so he beat a retreat. Tree Swallows feed on insects most of the time and gorge themselves with bayberries in late summer. Least Terns are fish eaters so it seems unlikely they were fighting over food accessibility. The Tree Swallows nest nearby but I have seen scores of Least Terns feeding here since early spring and there never was trouble. This sudden burst of violent aggression is a mystery to me. Just another one of those curious events that one comes across in a day’s birding.