My parents used to call such visitors “visiting firemen.” The guests could only stay for a day, not an overnight, so you tried to give them the best overview of the Island in a short time. The 50-cent tour as it is called. I find the same is true when I am in Florida. Recently I had back-to-back visiting firemen and had an excuse to put aside the bloody income tax preparation and go birding!
Nan Harris, a summer resident of Oak Bluffs and a great birder, was the first visitor. Her loyalty lies with shorebirds, as she is a strong supporter the Shorebird Recovery Program which is dedicated to protecting shorebirds and their habitats. The cold weather and choppy seas made the birding decision for me. Hitting the beaches with Nan would be not the best use of our limited time. So Flip and I picked Nan up and headed inland. We visited two areas, both wetlands, one created as a mitigation site so the Palm Beach County Water Utilities Department has an area to discharge treated water and the other an old pepper farm which has been converted into freshwater wetlands.
We walked, talked about the foul weather on the Vineyard, and spotted many Florida specialties, including purple gallinule, anhinga, mottled duck and wood stork. There were many old feathered friends around as well: osprey, northern harrier, green and blue-winged teal and great blue herons. Flip and I spotted our first purple martins of the season and were treated to a couple of black-bellied whistling ducks, but to see sora rails about two feet from the boardwalk paying no attention to us was a thrill for Nan. Unfortunately the only shorebird we saw was a killdeer.
Shortly thereafter Henry (Hank) Dolet called. He used to be a Vineyard summer resident and his claim to fame is that he still holds the record time for over 50-year-olds at the Chilmark Road Race. Hank had done some birding in the area, but we mentioned three of our favorite haunts and found he had not birded any of them. Flip was unable to join us, so Hank and I hit two hammocks within spitting distance of where we all were staying and a nearby wetlands mitigation site. The first was slow. The county is putting in new roads and parking lots, and there was a good deal of disturbance by large equipment. The wetlands were fair because we were there midday and should have been there either at dawn or dusk. The bonanza was the Rocky Point Hammock. We hit a mixed flock which included several species that Hank had not seen including my favorite “Florida” warbler, the yellow-throated warbler.
Home or away, it is always fun to show others good birding spots and find an excuse to leave the desk and the income tax forms!
I love the birding network on the Vineyard. On Feb. 27 Buddy Vanderhoop and his daughter were at West Basin checking on his boat. Buddy noticed a large falcon on the dunes — he wasn’t sure whether it was a gyrfalcon or a peregrine falcon. He called. I was out and Flip got the call. He immediately called Lanny McDowell who headed up-Island camera in hand. Lanny and Buddy met up and luckily the hawk in question was still perched. Lanny took photos and the two of them decided it was a large female peregrine. It would have been nice to have a gyrfalcon visit from the tundra. Thanks Buddy and Lanny!
Lanny was at Chappaquiddick on Feb. 22 looking for horned larks, which he missed, but he did spot a merlin. On Feb. 28 Lanny photographed a field sparrow at Quenames, a killdeer at Black Point.
On Feb. 23 Tara Whiting watched a northern harrier hunting the Black Point marshes. In the Black Point Pond she reports that the flock of buffleheads is still around. Tara said a male red-winged blackbird was singing its heart out by Quenames. Tara returned on Feb. 28 and watched quite a territorial spat between the “resident” pair of mute swans and a flock that came in. The residents swam on the interlopers, heads down, backs and wings all raised and puffy to look threatening. Flapping, when necessary, the newcomers kept just out of range of the nesting pair.
Jay Whiting of Oak Bluffs called on Feb. 23 to report seeing his first turkey vulture in the area. The vulture flew down on New York avenue and picked up a dead skunk. Yes, the cleanup crews of the bird world are the vultures. Jay was relating how he has been feeding the local murder of crows, murder being the name for a flock of crows, and has slowly but surely learned how to mimic the American crow. Jay now “calls” when he is about to set out birdseed. Now these crows will come in when Jay calls. Boy, crows are smart birds. I told Jay to keep an eye open for fish crows, which probably have already visited Oak Bluffs. We need a nice photo of a fish and American crow together.
Linda Katsikas and Lisa Cabral were visiting from off-Island and on Chappaquiddick spotted a pair of horned larks, two pair of snow buntings and a long-tailed duck.
Whit Manter reported the arrival, on Feb. 28, of three killdeer to the area at Pond View Farm where they have nested in the past.
Lanny McDowell photographed a male northern harrier — known as a gray ghost — over Misty Meadows field on March 2.
Roger Cook spotted a small flock of eastern meadowlarks at Squibnocket the same day.
Suzan Bellincampi reports that there are black scoters in Sengekontacket Pond and that they have a red-tailed hawk hanging around Felix Neck. Many Vineyard birders received an e-mail alerting us to keep an eye out for banded piping plovers. Fifty-seven piping plovers were banded in the Bahamas this winter and they may show up on the Vineyard. If you spot one of these marked plovers, please send detals of where and when you saw them to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Make sure you note what color and on which leg the bands are placed.
Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-627-4922 or e-mail to email@example.com.
Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her Web site is vineyardbirds.com.