Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary
Birding Community Newsletter

Issue 2017-08 | Friday, April 21, 2017 | 835 Subscribers
High pressure sliding off the Mid-Atlantic produces unrelenting Westerlies to welcome spring into the Rumney Marshes ACEC
Kind breezes that air out the Pines River Basin, cap the week's wet weather.  Ushered on by the south passing clearing front, the wintering open country songbirds answer their call back to summery places.  The transition has just begun.  Returning once again, North Americas' smallest falcons take back the horizon while the first 'iridescent glider' slides through the grassland valleys of the Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary.

  April 9, 2017 TRIP REPORT
Bear Creek Sanctuary
(restricted access) , Saugus, Essex County, Massachusetts, US

April 9, 2017
9:00 AM - 1:13 PM

Protocol: Traveling

2.0 Mile(s)

45 Bird Species

Brant  130

Canada Goose  60

American Black Duck  2

Mallard  6

Wild Turkey  5

Double-crested Cormorant  6

Great Blue Heron  1

Great Egret  1   

In the marsh to the south (Suffolk co)

Turkey Vulture  2

Osprey  9

Northern Harrier  2

Sharp-shinned Hawk  1

Cooper's Hawk  2     

1 very large imm female.

Red-tailed Hawk  2

Rough-legged Hawk  1     

Continuing light morph.

Killdeer  12

Wilson's Snipe  9

Ring-billed Gull  250

Herring Gull  200

Great Black-backed Gull  75

gull sp.  150

Rock Pigeon  7

Mourning Dove  6

Short-eared Owl  3     

At least 2 were females.

Northern Flicker  1

American Kestrel  6     

6 seen in one scan, but possibly as many as 15+ if some were moving migrants.

Eastern Phoebe  1

Blue Jay  1

American Crow  3

Horned Lark  4

Tree Swallow  16

Black-capped Chickadee  2

American Robin  13

European Starling  85

American Pipit  2     

*a bit early. At least 2, possibly 3. One heard early on, then later 2 seen by half the group and heard by a few more. Photos.

Smith's Longspur  1   

 ****continuing mega. Unfortunately, only seen in flushed flight, but some views were quite close with good lighting. Gave distinctive slow rattle call shortly after flushing each time. Very buffy overall, with black lined auriculars and white outer tail feathers. Couldn't tell if the top of the head was getting black or not.

American Tree Sparrow  4

White-throated Sparrow  1     

Singing at entrance.

Savannah Sparrow  3     


Savannah Sparrow (Savannah)  6

Song Sparrow  23

Northern Cardinal  3

Red-winged Blackbird  37

Common Grackle  14

Brown-headed Cowbird 16

American Goldfinch  8

House Sparrow  12

The American Pipit
This week's bird of the week goes to the American Pipit spotted in one of the grassland's temporary songbird forage plots.  This particular forage plot has proven very productive  over the years, attracting Vesper Sparrows, an Ipswich Sparrow, Lapland Longspurs and scads of Savannah Sparrows.

No surprise to anyone, Alan and Sebastian were in the first group that spotted the American Pipit, as was Ted and Judy. 

Runner-up this week goes to the Northern Shovelers spotted by Lukas on April 5.  This is a first time recording of this species at the Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary.   With one month left in our 2016-2017 bird walk season, there could not be a better way to wind down the season. 

Looking back through this year’s highlights, our friends of the Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary recorded 9 new species and 43 species high counts, meaning the highest number of individuals for a single species recorded at the Wildlife Sanctuary on the same bird walk.  Many of the 2016-2017 high count species were rare grassland species including Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs, Short-eared Owls, American Kestrels, and Upland Sandpipers.

Remarkably resilient, this ‘little brown bird’ of the grassland has persevered in locations others dare not.  Adapting to field margins, drainage swales, and the forgotten grassy nooks of open areas, this sparrow, named after the city where it was first recorded, maintains a widespread population despite having declined in numbers by nearly 50%.

The Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis, is one of the few open country species adapting to living in the shadows of urbanization and agribusiness. 

Although their population density is far declined, Savannah Sparrows, or ‘Savies’ as they are sometimes known, can be spotted in the tall grass drainage swales around ball-fields, playgrounds, and industrial parks. 

Still fairly common in farm country and pastureland, Savies have been relegated to the barely maintained margins elsewhere in their former range.

Savannah Sparrows have swiftly populated the grassland areas of the Bear Creek Wildlife Sanctuary. Their all-time population high count is 92 individuals on July 1, 2007.  On average, the Sanctuary maintains a steady breeding population of 33-46 returning adult birds.  Like most grassland birds, our numbers seem to dip during seasons with cold rainy springs.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes Savannah Sparrows as widespread and abundant, but their numbers have declined by 49% from 1966-2014.  Partners in flight estimates the worldwide breeding population at 180 million with 59% spending a portion of the year in the United States.

A prominent percher, and active territory defender, Savannah Sparrows are a joy to observe.  Once on the ground, they scoot through the grass like a meadow vole.  Their buzzy three part song is rhythmic, keeping perfect time with the passing breeding season.  After the breeding season, they form loose mixed species flocks that forage together in favorable habitats.

Special thanks to the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, 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 and every 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 next scheduled nature walk is:
Sunday, April 23 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, Norm, Alan, Sebastian, Ted, Liam, Bob, Mara, Jim, Lukas, and everyone else who contributed pictures and support this week.  Without your help, this publication could not be produced.

Additional pictures from the April 5 and April 9 walks:
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!