VINEYARD BIRDS II: Where and What to See on Martha’s Vineyard. By Susan B. Whiting and Barbara B. Pesch. Vineyard Stories, Edgartown, Mass. 2007. 152 pages, photographs and illustration. $19.95, softcover.
It hardly seems possible that it has been 24 years since the publication of Vineyard Birds I by Susan Whiting and Barbara Pesch. In 1983, that book brought up to date the first book specifically about the birds known from Martha’s Vineyard, published in 1959 by Ludlow Griscom and Island summer resident Guy Emerson. There has been a steady march forward in understanding the breadth and composition of the Island’s avian fauna, of which Vineyard Birds II is the fullest expression to date.
As stated in the authors’ introduction, the emphasis in this volume is heavily on what has changed since 1983, both in bird populations and the Island’s environment, while the important information from both predecessor books has been retained. The species accounts are succinct but provide both English and scientific names recommended by the American Ornithologists Union, an indication of abundance or rarity, a short-hand description of preferred habitat where applicable, and a general summary by month of occurrence by migrant species. A lot to include in short space, and done successfully. A conservative posture toward inclusion of records has been adopted, following the decisions of the Massachusetts Avian Rarities Committee. In many cases, the results of trends since 1983 illustrated by data from Christmas Bird Counts are included for the first time, a very helpful addition.
Another new feature is the description of 10 habitat types or specific birding sites with the inclusion of the bird species most likely to be found there. Each is illustrated by Karen Ogden’s excellent drawings. This section will be of greatest value to birders visiting the Island, for the first time or otherwise, or to residents newly intrigued with birding as a hobby. As in the 1983 edition, there is a list of six of the most productive locations to find birds on Martha’s Vineyard, also useful to visitors and residents alike.
At the back there are lists of species whose occurrence the authors deem hypothetical and of exotic species that have turned up. A checklist of all the birds included in the main systematic list will be very valuable to those wanting a handy way to keep track of their observations. An index to the English names is another improvement over the 1983 edition. The cover is graced with 11 fine color images taken by local photographer and artist Lanny McDowell.
Vineyard Birds II is the result of the authors’ exhaustive review of records published in the Vineyard Gazette and elsewhere over nearly a quarter of a century. The amount of effort and determination to do the necessary research can only be imagined. It takes a committed masochist to search acres of publications to ferret out the details that make this book the important one that it is. The authors are to be congratulated for seeing the project through.
The Island’s Christmas Bird Count begins on midnight on Saturday, Jan. 5, and continues for 24 hours. New birders are welcome to join a team birding in the field; for details, call Rob Culbert at 508-693-4908.