Plum Island Trip Report - August 2007



I was able to visit Plum Island/Parker River National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas on a recent business trip to Boston.  Plum Island is about 1 hour north of Boston.  Plum Island is an 8 mile long barrier island along the coast of Massachusetts.  The area was established as a National Wildlife Refuge in 1942 primarily to provide feeding, resting, and nesting habitat for migratory birds. Located along the Atlantic Flyway, the refuge is of vital stopover significance to waterfowl, shorebirds, and songbirds during pre- and post-breeding migratory periods.


I left Boston at 5:00 A.M. with a very upset stomach from the previous evenings meal and unfortunately had to make several stops along the way, it took me about 2.5 hours to reach my destination after the aforementioned stops as well as getting lost due to poor driving directions from Yahoo (again).  I arrived at the main entrance around 7:30, paid my fee and stopped at the first parking lot to get my bearings.  I was the only person in the park as far as I could tell which is always a good sign!  There were several nesting boxes and a visitors center, I took some photos and went on my way.  The next stop turned out to be a real eye opener and put further delay in my exploration of the island.  I stopped along the roadway to take a look at some shorebirds that were wading in a swampy area.  I was ATTACKED by mosquitoes!  And I do mean attacked… Only Texas could come close to what I experienced and I sincerely believe that there were more and meaner mosquitoes here than in Texas, so much so that I was a)  very sorry that I had decided to wear shorts and had not brought any long pants and b)  was going to have to get some insect repellent or I would not have enough blood left in me to survive more than an hour in this place!  I did a quick U-turn and was at a little town at the entrance to the park about 10 minutes later, I picked up a can of Deep Woods Off and went back to the park.  It really saved the day.  I am not a big fan of insect repellant, in fact I rarely use it but this time it was absolutely necessary.  Several times during the day I saw other visitors literally running back to their cars due to the relentless attack from these vermin!  It’s a real problem in some places in particular with the recent outbreaks of mosquito borne diseases such as West Nile Virus, Malaria and Equine encephalitis to name a few.  I guess the inverse is that there sure seemed to be enough volume of this food source to support a large population of animals feeding on them, like the tens of thousands of tree sparrows in the park (more on that later).


Once armed with my can of OFF (Deet – which by the way seems to be the only true, long lasting insect repellant that is effective against mosquitoes), I was back in the park for a full day of exploration.  Here are highlights and comments from my visit to Plum Island.


There was a large group of Purple Martins and Tree Swallows congregating around and in the nesting boxes.


Purple Martin


This Sparrow made a quick and brief appearance while I was at the next boxes.


A quick walk across the parking lot and to a marshy area produced my first new life bird of the trip, a Sharp-tailed Sparrow shyly cooperated with me for several seconds before flying off an disappearing in the low brush.


The seemingly ubiquitous Ring-billed Gull



I was hoping to see the endangered Piping Plover on this trip as this is one of their nesting areas, a significant one at that, most of the beach is closed down during breeding season as was the case this day.  Unfortunately, my only luck with Plovers were of the Semipalmated variety such as the one pictured here.


Common Terns in the area where I was earlier attacked by mosquitoes


There are several areas along plum island with short nature trails/walks that you can make.  I stopped at all of them during the day and walked each one at least once, some several times.  This Black-capped Chickadee from a quick walk along the first nature trail I encountered.

Female House Finch


As I mentioned in my opening remarks, Tree Swallows have plenty of food in the park and I was amazed to see the sheer volume of birds caught up in the midst of their annual migration.  There were well over 100,000 of these  swallows flying around in huge groups throughout the area, quite an amazing sight!


Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs were commonly encountered at most swampy areas


As were the usual Egrets and Herons


One of the typical habitats observed in the area


There were many plants with ripe fruit, a boon for birds such as Cedar Waxwings which were quite common throughout the park



Cedar Waxwing


More habitat shots


Note the swallows, this was a small flock compared to some that I saw



A Field Sparrow checking me out…


Here’s a picture that starts to show the volume of swallows that were in the area, even this doesn’t come across as well as I’d like, the numbers in the air were staggering and there were several flocks within the park.


Field Sparrow with dinner…


Here are some more Tree Swallows…



Eastern Kingbird, they were quite common as well


Lesser Yellowlegs


Northern Harrier


Short-billed Dowitchers in flight


Canada Geese


Greater Yellowlegs


More Yellowlegs…


Cedar Waxwing


Female Baltimore Oriole



Yellow Warbker


Cedar Waxwing trying to imitate Don King…


Yellow Wabler


Semipalmated Sandpiper


And another Yellowlegs…


American Goldfinch


Great Black-backed Gull



Common Eider enjoying a quick snack


Common Eider



Marsh habitat


Female American Redstart


A formidable looking character!  I was just glad that he didn’t have any interest in me!


Red-breasted Nuthatch



Yellow Warbler


Yellow Warbler


Gray Catbird


Field Sparrow


Eastern Kingbird


American Goldfinch and Cedar Waxwing sharing a perch….


American Goldfinch


Greater Yellowlegs


View to the west of Plum Island at sunset


 As the sun set on the day I had tallied a little disappointing 52 species of birds and only one "lifer" but I did enjoy the area and can see where there is a lot of potential in this place.  I would go back again, given the opportunity.


Thanks for looking!
- Brad



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