Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary
Birding Community Newsletter

Issue 2017-21 | Friday, December 8 2017 | 1,653 Subscribers
Returning Champions
A Quick Taste of Winter Brings Back Old Acquaintances
The flirtatious Autumn draws to a close with a crisp breeze that carries residents back into the Rumney Marshes ACEC. A mysterious visitor greets the morning with a puzzle as old as one can imagine. Fleeing the pale hand of the north, wintering songbirds build their ranks, as returning champions prepare for life on the grassland plain of the Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary.
 December 3, 2017 Trip Reports
Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary
Saugus, Essex County, Massachusetts, US

December 3, 2017
9:21 AM - 12:21 PM

Protocol: Traveling

2.89 Mile(s)

36 Bird Species
Canada Goose 135

Mallard 4

American Black Duck 24

Common Eider 1

Surf Scoter 1

White-winged Scoter 3

Bufflehead 8

Wild Turkey 13

Common Loon 2

Great Blue Heron 7

Northern Harrier 1

Sharp-shinned Hawk 1

Cooper's Hawk 1

Red-tailed Hawk 3

Ring-billed Gull 3

Herring Gull (American) 55

Great Black-backed Gull 3

Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 36

Mourning Dove 43

Downy Woodpecker (Eastern) 1

American Kestrel 1

Peregrine Falcon 2

Blue Jay 2

American Crow 5

Horned Lark 88

Northern Mockingbird 2

European Starling 600

American Pipit 36

American Tree Sparrow 1

White-throated Sparrow 2

Savannah Sparrow 2

Savannah Sparrow (Ipswich) 1

Song Sparrow 2

Northern Cardinal 4

Eastern Meadowlark 3

American Goldfinch 3

House Sparrow 3
White-throated Sparrows
American Tree Sparrow with a White-throated Sparrow
European Starling
The Finest of Friends
A Hen and a Drake Mallard
American Black Ducks
Common Loon
Blue Jay
Perigrine Falcon
Cooper's Hawk toying with European Starlings
Ipswich Sparrow
American Pipit
The Ipswich Sparrow
The Bird of the Week this week goes out to the Ipswich Sparrow that was bebopping around in the sparse grass area of the plateau. This happy little bird caused quite a stir, as everyone could tell, 'This one's not like the others, but how?' More than two dozen of us in all, craning our necks, calling out physical characteristics, like umpires at training camp. All save one, that is, who called it without hesitation. Hats off to you, sir.

The Ipswich Sparrow is a very hardy subspecies of the Savannah Sparrow. This is one out of a total population of only 4000 Ipswich Sparrows. These little guys, skip their way down the Atlantic Coast using the back sand dunes of barrier beaches. When you think of the story behind how this tough-as-nails little sparrow made it here, it is just incredible.

This may not be a 'Mega-rarity species' in some books, but it really is a special sighting. A big part of that story is where the tale begins. The subspecies originate from Sable Island, a smidgen of sand 109 miles southeast of Nova Scotia. This thin, uninhabited island is only one mile wide by 26 miles long. Compared to the rough seas it treads, the island is a wisp of spider's silk, holding its own along the edge of the Continental Shelf.

Runner-up this week goes to all the top level predators returning after a long summer away. All together, in a three hour span we observed nine Raptors hunting in the sanctuary.

This fall, we have had some great birding, but up till now, it has been a bit on the bland side. Now that the gang's all here, they oughta spice things up a bit.
There is a place, far down in the marsh. A grassy knoll, which rises up from the sea of grass that surrounds it. Much like a drumlin, but not made from the bits and pieces carried by a glacier, but rather of that from which we acquire, only to discard. The parts of our lives, cast off, without use, no longer wanted. These are the items that have been deposited in this place going back for more than half a century.
This depository, was a place that was once as barren as a brimstone shore, but is now restored back to life. Much like the reuse of the things we formerly discarded, this area has been changed from the period of whence it came, to live and provide, as it watches out over the travelers who visit her shores. 
The travelers... are vagabonds, the entire lot of them. Many have journeyed nearly the span of a continent before they set eyes on this place. Some will stay for a spell, but many more continue on. On to travel the distance of another continent before they stop. 

Theirs is a nomadic life, navigating from oasis to oasis as they negotiate the skies between seasonal destinations. 
In 1998, this place, came to be called the Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary.  During that time, and with a fair bit of effort, the 1950’s era landfill from which it was born, was repurposed into a 370 acre migratory wildlife sanctuary. 

Between 2002 and today, 194 species of migratory birds and insects have been documented in the sanctuary, including 17 species of birds that, due to habitat loss, are very rare for this area.

Most of the rare species that visit are attracted to one of the six types of grasslands that are managed at the sanctuary. Each grassland is relatively unique and provides habitats that are preferred by some species over others. Future habitat profiles in the Birding Community Newsletter will focus on each type of grassland.
Salt Marsh

The salt marshes at the sanctuary are unique. They are the lowest salt marshes in a 2,274 acre estuary. Their location is at the convergence of two major rivers, near where their combined tidal flow exits the estuary into Lynn Harbor, and continues on into Massachusetts Bay.  

Salt marshes that are low in an estuary, and close to the mouth, provide unique opportunities for shorebirds, wading birds, waterfowl, and fish species. For more information on salt marshes, the July 22, Saltmarsh Sparrow edition of the Birding Community Newsletter focused on salt marshes and their ability to adapt to sea level rise.
Old Field Habitat

Old Field Habitats are transitional habitats that occur between a woody habitat and a herbaceous habitat. They are sometimes referred to as early-successional forest, or as intermediate succession. The primary plant community is a diverse mosaic of grasses, forbs, shrubs and young trees. Typically, these habitats indicate disturbance in the landscape due to agriculture, fire, storm damage, or periodic dry conditions. 

In the sanctuary, the old field habitats are located in a two mile border adjacent to the shrubland zone of the living shoreline. These transition zones, between the woody and herbaceous habitats, are favored by a large variety of migrating songbirds. They are also great locations to spot Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks patrolling the edge. For more information on shrubland habitats, the September 29, shrubland edition of the Birding Community Newsletter focused on shrublands.
Open Field Habitat

Open Field Habitats are uniformly vegetated, primarily by a grass or forage crop species associated with agriculture. These areas can change rapidly from thick, tall vegetation, to open and sparsely vegetated right after the harvest. Depending on the vegetation, properly managed areas can provide suitable habitat for many grassland species, including Bobolinks, American Pipits, Northern Harriers, and Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterflies. However, poorly managed locations are known to be detrimental many species of grassland breeding birds.

Open Field Habitats in the sanctuary mainly consist of the sloped areas on the capped landfill. In these locations, the high density polyethylene liner material is within two feet of the ground’s surface. As a precautionary measure to protect and preserve the capping system, sod forming grasses with vigorous root systems are used to bind the soils together. The sod forming grasses are maintained annually by mowing the areas after the breeding season in late summer. 
Coastal Grassland

Coastal Grasslands are very rare, and are found in less than 5% of the State. These areas consist of secondary or rear dune habitats on barrier beaches, sandplains, and coastal heathlands. Unfortunately, development all along the coast has dramatically reduced the amount of coastal grasslands in Massachusetts.

The coastal grasslands managed in the sanctuary are the 110 acres of open plains at the top of the landform. The majority of this area is managed in a three year mowing rotation. To maintain as much diversity as possible, one third of the grassland is mown each season, and each section is only mown once every third growing season. 

Also included in the open plains section of the sanctuary is a 7 acre shortgrass meadow that is used by the Saugus High School golf team as a driving range, and a 10 acre active landfill area that periodically shifts around the top of the landform.

This is where the 'Megas' happen. In this region, there are approximately 70 species of wildlife that use grassland habitats. In the sanctuary, our grassland birds vary by the season, and over the years, we have been lucky enough to catch sight of six mega-rarities in the coastal grasslands. During the last three years, Short-eared Owls, Snowy Owls, Horned Larks, Snow Buntings, Lapland Longspurs, Savannah Sparrows, American Kestrels, Rough-legged Hawks and Northern Harriers have all been observed in the coastal grasslands by our friends who visit the sanctuary.
 The Next Scheduled Nature Walks are:

Sunday, December 10 at 9 a.m.
* Please watch the weather. A developing coastal storm predicted for Saturday night into Sunday morning may prevent the December 10 walk. Please subscribe to the Bear Creek Sanctuary @s2ary39 twitter account or check Massbird for all of the most up to date details.*
Sunday, December 24 at 9 a.m.

Stay up to date on all the latest information on bird walks and sightings at the sanctuary by following us on twitter

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, Patricia, Alfred, Norm, Rich, Nancy, John, Mary, Linda, Sebastian, Ted, Paul, Mark, Nancy, Ted, Jarret, Cammy, Pat, Mary, Donna and everyone else who contributed pictures and support this week. Without your help, this publication could not be produced.

Additional pictures from this week:
Super Moon Tides
Red-tail Hawk eyeing the European Starling smorgasbord.
American Kestrel
Hawk Fodder
Red-tail Hawk
Song Sparrow
Northern Mockingbird
Mourning Dove
Rock Pigeon
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! 
Issue 2017-01 The Short-eared Owl
Issue 2017-02 The American Kestrel
Issue 2017-03 The Peregrine Falcon
Issue 2017-04 The Smith's Longspur
Issue 2017-05 The Smith's Longspur Cont.
Issue 2017-06 The Smith's Longspur Cont.
Issue 2017-07 The Horned Lark
Issue 2017-08 The Savannah Sparrow
Issue 2017-09 The Upland Sandpiper
Issue 2017-10 The Killdeer
Issue 2017-11 The Annual Breeding Bird Survey Part I
Issue 2017-12 The Annual Breeding Bird Survey Part II
Issue 2017-13 Salt Marshes / Sea Level Rise
Issue 2017-14 The Common Green Darner
Issue 2017-15 Birds of Prey
Issue 2017-16 The Shrublands
Issue 2017-17 The Painted Lady
Issue 2017-18 The Common Buckeye
Issue 2017-19 The Turnover
Issue 2017-20 Shoulder to the Wind