Friday, May 22, 1998

Birders brave mosquitoes to find the birds

by Ken Harte

Near the beginning of the 27th annual conservation commission spring bird walk on the Towle conservation land last Sunday, as leader I reassured the 15 participants that the mosquitoes wouldn't be too bad, as long as we didn't stop for birds. Unfortunately, this rule had to be quickly broken when we stopped to listen to a Blue-winged Warbler in a spinney on the west side of the main field and soon found two more singing males and a female. Shortly thereafter a male Indigo Bunting, a Great Crested Flycatcher and a male Magnolia Warbler came by, and the swarming clouds of mosquitoes were temporarily forgotten.

In spite of the fine early morning weather, this year's late migration (caused by the extended inclement period in late April and early May) meant that no "warbler waves" were encountered, and only 41 species were seen or heard, including eight species of wood warbler.

Some Bobolinks had arrived in the main field, with an estimated three males (plus one female), down from an all-time high of 18 males in 1993 and the lowest count since 1984. Perhaps there are more to come, but it is also possible that the habitat is becoming less suitable for this species. A visit on Memorial Day weekend should answer the question. One male was also found in the Hamiltons' field on the eastern border, where Red-winged Blackbirds are well-established.

Some of the other birds found were a Broad-winged Hawk (probably nesting), a Black-billed Cuckoo heard calling once, a singing Eastern Wood-Pewee, a Hermit Thrush obligingly singing right over the trail, two Blue-headed Vireos, seven Black-throated Green Warblers, four Ovenbirds heard but not seen, four Scarlet Tanagers, and six Baltimore Orioles.

Special thanks are due to the sharp-eyed and sharp-eared participants, who found many of the birds this year under rather trying culicid circumstances.

Finally a botanical note: Fringed Polygala is alive and well. This rare wildflower was again found in its usual woodland location alongside the trail not far from Westford Street.