It is not proper for birders, naturalists or any type of scientist to anthropomorphize: a 50-cent word that means giving a human personality to something that is not human. It’s often hard to avoid this, but the most difficult test for me is the Carolina wren.
An imp is the best way to describe this wren, which first appeared on the Island in 1929. A true Southerner, this wren is easygoing and prefers warmer climates. Several Vineyard winters have been so severe that the population is all but decimated. However, a pair or two always survive. The Carolina wrens repopulate the Vineyard in jig time, and in a way that makes perfect sense to me.
The male Carolina wren starts the process. He selects a territory and starts to sing. This is not one simple song or the one we first learn to audibly identify this imp by (teakettle, teakettle, teakettle) but up to 40 different songs and calls. Quite a songster, this wren frequently repeats one catchy phrase several times before moving to another which is again repeated. Once a female wren is attracted she sometimes sings a duet with her future spouse. How she knows the words defies me! Mating and nest building is the next order of business. And the Carolina wrens have it down to a science.
The male Carolina wren chooses the nest site. Not only does he build the nest, he also plays Mr. Mom to the nth degree as he feeds the young while the female begins laying eggs and brooding another clutch.
Vineyard Carolina wrens have produced three clutches in a year, particular after a bad winter. The pair can produce up to eight eggs per clutch, but usually it is four or five. Still, that results in 12 to 15 Carolina wrens per nesting season. So back they come after being frozen out during bad winter seasons.
You probably have one of these imps nesting in your wood pile, cellar, or garage. or will undoubtedly see this wren around your feeders, especially the suet, if the weather turns foul.
Great excitement at Aquinnah: Lanny McDowell and Allan Keith had a Townsend’s solitaire land next to them in a cherry tree. This is only the second sighting for this western bird. Hopefully it will stay around for others to enjoy. The first solitaire was seen by this author and Eleanor Waldron at Lambert’s Cove in December 1981.
Oct. 14 brought the first sighting of brant for the winter, seen by Tim and Sheila Baird in Oak Bluffs. They also had white-throated sparrows at their feeder in Edgartown that day.
On Oct. 14, Lanny McDowell, Al Sgroi and Porter Turnbull birded Aquinnah. Their best birds were six rusty blackbirds, two orange-crowned warblers, a yellow-bellied sapsucker, a brown creeper and white-crowned, swamp and field sparrows. On their way home at Blacksmith Valley in Chilmark they spotted an indigo bunting. Later in the day Sally Anderson was at Aquinnah and spotted both ruby-crowned and golden-crowned kinglets and a blue-headed vireo.
On Oct. 15, Sally Anderson and Laurel Walker spotted Nashville and blackpoll warblers, a purple finch and five species of sparrows. They also had bobolinks, a brown creeper, red-eyed vireo and ruby crowned kinglets. The same day Lanny McDowell visited Ozzie Fischer and in his backyard he spotted a bobolink and a blue grosbeak. Later at Parsonage Pond he watched six wood ducks fly over into the sunset.
On Oct. 16, Flip Harrington saw a hermit thrush at Quansoo and Kib Bramhall had a yellow-bellied sapsucker his his window at Seven Gates. That same day, Suzan Bellincampi reports that 15 black ducks and a couple of green-winged teal landed in the duck pond at Felix Neck. Suzan also announced that the Felix Neck calendar is now available. You can find them at the Neck or at Cronig’s Market now and more places later, according to Penny Uhlendorf.
Larry Hepler had an osprey at Black Point on Oct. 16 and Scott Stephens spotted one at Vineyard Haven Harbor on Oct. 17.
On Oct. 17, a female purple finch appeared at our feeder at Quenames in Chilmark. Bert Fischer had two ruddy ducks, a small raft of scaup and a peregrine falcon at Squibnocket. Bert also mentioned that the lovebird is now in with a flock of red-winged blackbirds as reported by Susan Regan on the other side of Squibnocket Pond.
On Oct. 18, Sarah Mayhew spotted pine siskins at her feeder in West Tisbury and Penny Uhlendorf and Scott Stephens had several in their Pilot Hill yard on Oct. 21. Lanny McDowell had many pine siskins at Aquinnah on the same day as well as purple finches, Blackpoll warblers and American pipits. On Oct. 19, Lanny counted 16 American pipits at the Farm Institute at Katama.
Back to Oct. 21: Allan Keith had a juvenile common moorhen at Squibnocket as well as five drake harlequin ducks. Flip Harrington and I were at Aquinnah and spotted northern parula, orange-crowned warbler, many yellow-rumped warblers, a blue-headed vireo and several sparrow species and dark-eyed juncos as well as a peregrine and a merlin. At Quenames we spotted pine and black-throated blue warblers. I had seen the black-throated blue on Oct. 19 as well.
On Oct. 20, LuAnn Johnson had both male and female purple finches at her feeder in North Tisbury as well as tufted titmouse and red-breasted nuthatches.
On Oct. 22, Scott Stephens and Penny Uhlendorf had an eastern wood pewee at their Pilot Hill home. Lanny McDowell photographed a dickcissel at Aquinnah the same day. Sally Anderson and Allan Keith were also at the Head that day. They and Lanny’s best birds were a peregrine falcon, eastern meadowlark, red-headed woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, a ruby-throated hummingbird, purple finch, northern parula and vesper sparrow. Allan had seen American pipits earlier in the day and later he spotted a female summer tanager at Squibnocket and a Wilson’s snipe at Ozzie Fischers.
Rob Culbert will lead his last bird walk of the season Saturday Oct. 27. Last week at Crystal Lake he spotted, along with many yellow-rumped warblers, a ruby-crowned kinglet, five swamp sparrows and a Lincoln’s sparrow. Rob commented that there are still more than a hundred laughing gulls at Sengekontacket and a few at Little Beach. Flip Harrington and I are still seeing laughing gulls at Menemsha as well.
On Oct. 24, along with the great sighting of the Townsend’s solitaire, Allan Keith and Lanny McDowell spotted a pied billed grebe, an American coot, 11 red-breasted mergansers and 20 northern gannets. The sea ducks have arrived. The men saw a thousand off Aquinnah, mainly scoters, and more than 2,500 at Squibnocket.