The Waskosim’s Rock Reservation is a Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank holding which can be reached off North Road at the West Tisbury-Chilmark line. Because of its habitat diversity, its elevation changes, its lack of so-called improvements, its overall acreage (just under 185 acres), its beech-lined stream and excellent trails, it is a great find for birders as well as other people seeking recreation.
We think of peak songbird (passerine) migration in the spring as occurring during the second two weeks of May. Many nesters are on territory earlier. This period is a productive one for birders and it’s prime time to find migrants moving through the Island’s forests.
Following is a pocket guide to nesting birds you should be able to find on a spring morning at Waskosim’s Rock. You can think of it as a treasure hunt. Consider consulting and maybe printing the map for property 12 at the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank commission’s Web site or have a look at the large painted trail map facing the Waskosim’s Rock parking lot.
Here we go. At the parking lot there can be house finches, goldfinches and white-breasted nuthatches. Take up the blue trail at the bulletin board, where there sometimes are bird sightings posted, and expect to hear an ovenbird off to the left. They are often perched and singing not much above eye-level. Along the path to the stream expect the laugh of a red-bellied woodpecker or the song of a red-eyed vireo and maybe a scarlet tanager’s.
Cross Mill Brook at the granite bridge and listen for wood thrush in this area. There is soon a crossroads of trails. There was a ruby-throated hummingbird nest off to the right last year. However, you should proceed straight. On your left you can hear and see a pair of redstarts. Keep following the gradual uphill climb to a ridge. This is a good stretch for flickers, downy woodpeckers, black-capped chickadees and white-breasted nuthatches, all vying for nesting cavities; also yellow-billed cuckoos, ovenbirds and eastern wood pewees. In the brambles off to the left will be catbirds mewing and eastern towhees singing. Off to the right a pair of wood ducks has been seen checking out suitable nesting sites, so you may see a duck flying through the woods.
As you travel the ridge, you will see a thick red maple swamp off to the left before the path skirts the end of a stone wall. This maple often hosts a singing black and white warbler. Anywhere along here you could hear the harsh “breeep” of nesting great crested flycatchers. Beyond the ridge, listen for wood thrush again, plus American robin and scarlet tanager.
When the woodsy part of the trail ends at a grassy roadway flanked by young planted spruce trees, go left. From this turn until you reach the wooden signage at the next trail intersection, be alert for blue-winged warblers. Before you bear right from the sign out into the open field, follow along the blue trail to the left, only temporarily, into the woods again until there is an open field at your right. This short stretch of trail has northern (Baltimore) orioles, great crested flycatchers, yellow-billed cuckoos, towhees, northern cardinals and blue-winged and black and white warblers. It can be a very active birding spot.
Retrace your steps back through the woods to the sign and head out into the field on the white trail. There should be tree swallows around. You can compare the very similar songs of chipping sparrows and pine warblers. Listen and look for yellow warblers and common yellowthroats in the brush along the field edge to the right. On the far side of the field pick up the green trail and make your way uphill to the cleared top, listening for black and white warbler and indigo bunting on the way up. There are panoramic views from here. A prairie warbler is guaranteed from this location. Scan the skies for red-taileds and turkey vultures.
Head downhill on the fairly steep green trail on the northeast side of the summit. Look for indigo bunting, scarlet tanager, yellow-billed cuckoo and prairie warbler, then great crested flycatcher nearer the fields. Out in the fields, scan for bluebirds, plus tree, barn and bank swallows hawking over the fields. Meander through the fields and regain the blue trail at the signage near the wood’s edge. Turn right.
A blue-winged warbler is again possible; and towhees, chickadees and eastern phoebes may be present.
Where the open field to the right of the trail funnels down to segue into woodlands, expect to hear oven bird and prairie warbler again. Follow the trail until you encounter Mill Brook. This location harbors two nesting species that would be hard-to-find anywhere else on the Vineyard: Acadian flycatcher and northern parula warbler.
Continue along the trail which wanders through successive beech groves roughly parallel to the stream. Catbirds and red-eyed vireos will be heard. Two years back a hooded warbler was detected moving through this migration corridor. The trail continues on to the intersection near the granite bridge, where you turn right to end up back at the parking lot.
Anytime between mid-May and the end of June, an attentive birder should be able to hear and probably see every species mentioned.
Remember to call in your sightings to the bird hot line at 508-627-4922. Thank you.