Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary
Birding Community Newsletter

Issue 2017-10 | Friday, May 5, 2017 | 885 Subscribers
What It Takes 
A Persistent Sea Breeze Cools Down Ancient Courtship Rituals
Strong onshore winds remind the residents of the Rumney Marshes ACEC that the North Atlantic is a fickle spring friend.  Driven back into the sunny pockets, the sparrows of the grassland show they have what it takes to survive in the coastal grassland of the Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary. 
  April 30, 2017 TRIP REPORT
Bear Creek Sanctuary
(restricted access) , Saugus, Essex County, Massachusetts, US

April 30, 2017
9:00 AM - 12:45 PM

Protocol: Traveling

3.0 Mile(s)

46 Bird Species

Canada Goose  40

Mallard  2

Red-breasted Merganser  1

Wild Turkey  5

Common Loon  1

Double-crested Cormorant  35

Great Egret  2

Turkey Vulture  1

Osprey  2

Northern Harrier  2

Cooper's Hawk  1

Killdeer  8

peep sp.  1   

 heard, presumably a flyover, not seen.

Wilson's Snipe  2

Spotted Sandpiper  6 

Conservative count, possibly additional birds. Regular at this location in these numbers.

Greater Yellowlegs  3

Willet  3

Ring-billed Gull  10

Herring Gull  25

Great Black-backed Gull  3

Rock Pigeon  8

Mourning Dove  5

Downy Woodpecker  1

Northern Flicker  1

American Kestrel  8

Blue Jay  4

American Crow  5

Tree Swallow  1

Barn Swallow  3

American Robin  10

Gray Catbird  1

Brown Thrasher  1

Northern Mockingbird  2

European Starling  25

American Pipit  1     

Regular here. Seen briefly, then heard by several members of the group.

Lapland Longspur  1     

Very impressive adult male in breeding plumage.

Yellow Warbler  2

Yellow-rumped Warbler  1

White-throated Sparrow  3

Savannah Sparrow  15

Song Sparrow  4

Eastern Towhee  1

Red-winged Blackbird  10

Common Grackle  10

Brown-headed Cowbird  2

American Goldfinch  8

House Sparrow  15

The Lapland Longspur
This week's bird of the week goes to the sharp dressed Lapland Longspur that flushed out from the rocky shores of the detention pond. This late visiting winter bird was decked out in his Sunday's best breeding plumage.  A very rare sight for eastern Massachusetts.

This bird was first spotted by Sebastian and Ted B. while they were searching for Spotted Sandpipers in the detention pond.


This may be another example of  a returning rare visitor at the Sanctuary.  Exactly one year ago, on April 24, weeks and weeks after the wintering population of Lapland Longspurs had left the Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary for the open tundra, Ted M. spotted this Lapland Longspur in full breeding plumage in the picture to the right. 

That was an incredible day.  A few days prior to that morning's walk, a fast moving high pressure front followed closely by a strong low pressure front carried a huge number of returning migrants back to the Sanctuary.  In addition to the Lapland Longspur in breeding plumage, we recorded two Upland Sandpipers, a Vesper Sparrow, and 40 Savannah Sparrows in a little over four hours.

Runner-up this week goes to the first brooding pair of Killdeer found at the sanctuary this year.  Young Jarett spotted the pair, pictured in the trip report above,  getting ready last week, and he knew just where to go this week to find them.  

Typically the first migrating resident to arrive back to the Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary, the ‘chattering plover’ returned to the grassland of the Rumney Marsh ACEC on February 26th this year. 

The males arrive first and establish friendly boundaries that are abandoned at a moment’s notice when the weather turns bad.  Eventually, the better-halves return and straighten out the bachelors. She sees to it that those boundary lines take on new meaning.   

Over the past few weeks, we have been witness to the many trials and tribulations of arriving ‘first’ in the wide-open coastal grassland.  Enduring unseasonable extreme cold.  Driven out from the grassland by snowstorm after snowstorm.  Nearly taken while on the wing by a pair of Peregrine Falcons.  Torrents of rain falling from skies so angry it is as though they have never known the sun.  These delicate looking shorebirds have what it takes to endure it all.

With all those days of facing the cold, escaping headlong into the wind, and suffering in silence behind them, the Killdeer, Charadrius vociferus, is just starting are just starting to put their shoulders to the wheel.  

Pairs choose locations within their territory, and perform scrape ceremonies to create shallow depressions in the dry soil.

Eventually, one scrape is chosen, and the female deposits 4-6 eggs.  Killdeer have a long incubation period of 22-28 days, after which the chicks hatch out as tiny replicas of the adult birds, ready to walk out of the nest. Some say, they look like cotton balls with legs.

Starting life in an open grassland leaves both the nests and the chicks vulnerable to predators.  Luckily for the chicks, adult Killdeer are brave actors that play the broken wing trick flawlessly.  They cry and flop around showing of the rusty patch on their back.  When they attract the attention of the predator, or in some cases, a compassionate naturalist, they crawl and flop them away from the nest.  Once the passerby is a safe distance from the nest, the Killdeer miraculously flies away with mocking call to let you know they are laughing at you.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Killdeer populations have declined by 47% from 1966 – 2014.  Information from the 2012 North American Breeding Bird Survey indicates that the North American breeding bird population is approximately 1 million pairs.

From mid-February to early- October, Killdeer maintain a large population at the Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary.  During the breeding season, the Sanctuary averages between 20-25 breeding pairs that can have up to three broods a season.  Some years there are more puffballs running around than you can shake a stick at.

Like their close neighbors at the Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary, the American Kestrel, Killdeer are sensitive to pollutants and pesticides in their environment.  Maintaining such a vibrant population at the Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary is a true testament to how with a little consideration, industry and the environment can coexist.

Special thanks to the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, The Massachusetts Audubon Society, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for not only maintaining such wonderful online resources free to the public, but also for the extraordinary efforts these organizations preform each day in the conservation and preservation of our natural resources.   

We are currently planning our spring and summer
workshop schedule at the Sanctuary

Salt Marsh Resiliency - *Updated*
This season we will be taking a special interest in salt marshes.  Lately, it is difficult to go through a day without hearing a news story on sea level rise or global climate change.  For salt marshes, the threat of sea level rise is of great concern.  Existing in a narrow band between mean sea level and extreme high tide, marshes need to migrate inland or increase in elevation to survive. 

Introduction to Coastal Wetlands - * Postponed* Rescheduled  for Saturday, June 10 2017
Information and a sign-up sheet will be posted on a separate web page soon.
Salt Marsh Sparrow
Salt Marsh Sparrows are solely dependent on salt marshes, and because they are, this sparrow is predicted to be the first vertebrate species in this region to become extinct due to sea level rise.   Based on the eBird database, the Rumney Marshes ACEC has a stable Salt Marsh Sparrow population. This season we would like to establish a population baseline for use in future restoration efforts.  

Innovative Invasive Species Control
Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary has nearly two decades of experience controlling Phragmites australis without the use of harsh chemicals.   With increasing health concerns about the use of herbicides and dwindling management budgets, methodologies that focus on trajectory stabilization are returning to the forefront of resource management.
  The last two scheduled nature walks for the Spring 2017 season are:
Sunday, May 7  at 9 a.m.
Sunday, May 14 at 9 a.m.

NOTE: The Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary is open to the public for guided tours only.  If you would like to visit the sanctuary, please attend one of our regularly scheduled nature walks, or contact us to arrange a private tour.   Thank you.
Special thanks to Soheil, Sebastian, Mark, Ted, Jarett,  Mara, Cammy, Ted B, and everyone else who contributed pictures and support this week.  Without your help, this publication could not be produced.

Additional pictures from this week's walk:
The Wheelabrator Saugus Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary is a 370-acre property abutting a 2,274-acre estuary on the outskirts of Boston, located in the heart of the Rumney Marshes ACEC. Maintained and managed grasslands, salt marshes, shrublands and maturing woodlands combine as one of the largest bird migration staging areas on the North Shore and a habitat for nearly 200 bird species, as well as other wildlife such as coyotes, foxes, raccoons and snakes. Visitors can enjoy the more than 14,000 feet of walking trails that permeate the site, a half-acre exhibit garden, and meeting and lecture areas, which are scattered throughout nine of the restored ecosystems. Situated directly behind Wheelabrator Saugus, the Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary is maintained and managed by Geoff Wilson of Northeast Wetland Restoration. Follow along with us as the birds change with each passing season!