Rainy weather — ah, let me see — a good book and a comfy couch are my tickets to staying dry and passing the time. But what do birds do? They also seek shelter but instead of a house they use leaves of shrubs, bushes and trees as a roof. If there are none of these available, unlike humans, they stay warm and relatively dry without shelter. The feathers of birds have developed rain shedding feathers through the evolutionary process. I watched a blue jay sitting peacefully in the pouring rain the other day. Once in a while he would shake off the rain drops that were resting on his feathers, but otherwise he seemed quite content. When the rain stopped, the blue jay fluffed up his feathers and dried them out in the sunshine. No electric hairdryer necessary as most of the moisture had been shed.
Herring gulls seem to fly no matter what the weather and I wondered why their eyes didn’t sting or become damaged by the rain. Again an adaptation has prepared the eyes of gulls and all other birds against eye damage while underway. A transparent nictitating membrane exists on birds under their regular eyelids. This membrane stays over the eyes while they are flying and protects their eyes from inclement weather. This is much more sensible and less expensive than eyeglasses or goggles.
How about the expression “This weather is for the birds” which is what I have heard frequently. Where did that come from? After doing a bit of research, I discovered that it meant any weather that people did not enjoy, but why for the birds? The saying originated in the military in the 1940s and was a shortened version of “That’s crap for the birds.” No doubt based on observation by people of sparrows picking seeds out of manure or, to be succinct, a polite way of saying “This weather is crappy.”
Cooper’s hawk nests have been found in five locations on the Island. The nest most noticed has been one by the Chilmark Cemetery which is appropriately located close to Eddie Chalif’s grave. If you are not familiar with Mr. Chalif, he was the coauthor of Birds of Mexico with Roger Tory Peterson and lived on Abel’s Hill. He led the Chilmark Community Center bird walks for years before I took over.
Emmett Carroll spotted the Cooper’s hawk nest first and alerted his mother Bette Carroll. Bette and Harriette Otteson found the nest and Harriette called me while Emmett called Lanny McDowell. Lanny took a series of great photos of the chicks at different ages.
And speaking of Emmett, he is pretty sure he saw a razorbill in Menemsha Pond recently. We are hoping others might get a glimpse of this alcid and call the Bird Hotline at 508-627-4922.
An interesting summer sighting was made by John Banks, who was fishing off Wasque last week. He spotted an unusually marked duck in the rip and photographed it. It was a spring plumage long-tailed duck (oldsquaw). There are no July records of this duck on the Vineyard to my knowledge.
Exciting news comes from Liz Baldwin and Luanne Johnson who estimate that there are over 500 pairs of least terns nesting out at Norton’s Point near the breach into Katama Bay. This is the best colony of these terns we have seen on the Vineyard since 1992. The colony is totally fenced to avoid dog, skunk and raccoon predation. Least terns are also returning to the Quansoo Beach.
Unfortunately the horrible weather has taken its toll on the piping plovers. Liz reports that three nests were lost as well as some chicks. The piping plover count now: 12 piping plover chicks have fledged, five are not flying yet and there are four nests that still have eggs. American oystercatchers have done okay. There are nine fledglings and two not yet flying. We hope there will be no further violent weather!
Sarah Mayhew swam up to a spotted sandpiper at Ice House Pond on July 7. This is probably a nesting bird so people should watch for young.
Great egrets are becoming more common each summer. Eleanor Waldron, Barbara Pesch and I have seen one traveling between Black Point and Chilmark Pond almost daily and Marilyn Hollinshead spotted one in Pear Tree Cove on Tisbury Great Pond on July 9.
Steve Allen found two snowy egrets in the Felix Neck marshes on July 5.
Bill Lee is back on Island and birding practically daily. On July 4 between Abel’s Hill and Menemsha he spotted great crested flycatcher, red-eyed vireo, red-bellied woodpecker and several ovenbirds. At Quitsa he spotted American oystercatchers and heard an unusual sparrow which he is tracking down.
The Chilmark Community Center Bird Walks have begun. We meet at 8 a.m. every Tuesday and on July 7 we spotted 28 species. The best birds were shearwaters sitting offshore. Unfortunately they were just at the edge of the fog so exact identification was impossible although my bet is Cory’s shearwaters. Other highlights included families of Eastern phoebes and Eastern kingbirds, barn, bank and tree swallows, great egret and American oystercatcher.
Rob Bierregaard reports that Conomo, the osprey that can’t decide between the Vineyard and Connecticut, quit transmitting his position on June 27. Hopefully it is just a glitch and he will reappear.
Bill Post had another look at the mystery hawk at Katama and determined that it was a northern harrier, not a broad-winged hawk. Thanks for your persistence!
Lanny McDowell and Bob Shriber spotted a tri-colored heron and a great egret at Katama on July 4. Tri-colored herons are rare on the Vineyard: nice spot! July 5 Lanny heard a sharp-tailed sparrow in the West Basin marshes of Lobsterville.
Claudia Rogers spotted two purple finches at Tradewinds.on June 28 and two great egrets and a black-crowned night heron at Fuller Street in Edgartown on July 8.
Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-627-4922 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.