Hurricane Earl was a bust for bird watchers. A cast of thousands, all the Vineyard’s most active bird watchers, met at the Gay Head Cliffs on Saturday, Sept. 4 with high hopes. Although the winds were not much more than a northeaster, we were hopeful that some unusual bird species may have been carried to our Island from afar. No such luck. There were more bird watchers than birds.
The birding was so slow at Aquinnah that we all decided to head to Katama and the Farm Institute. Again, although we scanned every field and the sky, we spied nothing that we hadn’t already seen this summer/fall. We split up; one group did find a strange tree swallow. Disappointed by the lack of bird life on the Vineyard, Flip Harrington and I decided to take up an invitation from Pat Hughes and Hal Minis to bird on Cape Cod.
We took a noon boat and headed for Brewster and Crosby Landing Beach. It was blowing hard. It was low tide, so there was a mix of nine species of shorebirds on the beach. We struck out again. No birds there we hadn’t seen on the Vineyard, although there was still a good number of common terns present. The following day we visited Morris Island and South Beach in Chatham. I’ll bet it was blowing 20 to 25 knots. It was hard to keep the binoculars steady and you had to hold the spotting scope. It was very high tide, so flats were nonexistent. We did find pockets of water inland where we spotted a few interesting birds, including three immature horned larks, a couple of spotted sandpipers and a whimbrel. The only other bird of note was a peregrine falcon that was being blown over our heads at the Morris Island Lighthouse.
I am very glad that Earl was a bust as hurricanes are very destructive, but I did want to see some unusual birds. Guess I will have to go walkabout for that.
Dick Jennings spotted and photographed a tricolored heron in the marshes of Poucha Pond on Sept. 1. The heron was still there as of Sept. 7. This is an uncommon Vineyard visitor. Dick also added that Penelope, the wayward Vineyard osprey, has gone south and is visiting the Disney complex in Orlando, Fla. Talk about a girl that cannot make up her mind! Dick added that he had seen an American golden plover at Little Neck on Cape Pogue near the end of August.
Jules and Barbara Ben David reported on Sept. 1 that they still had a pair of Baltimore orioles in their Oak Bluffs yard. However, the pair left on Sept. 4, probably blown away by Earl. The ruby-throated hummingbirds were still fighting over the sugar water in their feeder but they were down to one on Sept. 7. We have had no hummingbirds at our Quansoo feeders since Hurricane Earl.
Tom Rivers thought the whippoorwills that had been serenading him and Barbara all summer had left. Then on Sept. 1 they were calling again! Jane Grawe, her son Sam, wife Anissa and daughter Katie all heard whippoorwills from the house at which they were staying, located off Black Point Road, during the week of August 30.
Tom River watched two American kestrels flying over Squibnocket on Sept. 3. Pete Gilmore, Lanny McDowell and Warren Woessner spotted an American kestrel at Black Point on August 29.
Twelve hardy souls from the Martha’s Vineyard Garden Club joined me at Red Beach, Lobsterville on Sept. 2. It was blowing quite hard so birding was a bit of a challenge. We had a good introduction to shorebirds, seeing 10 different species. The best birds of the day were a red knot, ruddy turnstones and a spotted sandpiper.
Rob Shriber identified a western sandpiper at Red Beach, Lobsterville on Sept. 2.
Lanny McDowell, Warren Woessner, Richard Cohen and Pete Gilmore found a leucistic tree swallow a Katama on Sept. 4.
Al Sqroi found a marbled godwit on Sarson’s Island on Sept. 5. I wonder if it is the same one that was at Katama, and if so where was it during the blow? The same day Al found an American golden plover at the Farm Institute in with other plovers and shorebirds. He also spotted both northern harriers and a red-tailed hawk.
Sept. 6 Allan Keith and Matt Pelikan met at Aquinnah early in the morning. They had a good collection of bird sightings including: least flycatcher blue-gray gnatcatcher, Nashville, Tennessee, yellow and blackpoll warblers, two dickcissels, and a purple finch. I arrived late and we saw ruby-throated hummingbirds, pine and prairie warblers and a common yellowthroat. Allan Keith and I went on to the Gay Head Moraine and Squibnocket and added eastern wood pewee, eastern phoebe, tufted titmouse, warbling vireo, Philadelphia vireo, Magnolia and bay-breasted warblers and two clay-colored sparrows. Warren Woessner and Allan Keith visited Norton’s Point and Herring Creek Farm later in the day. The two men’s best birds were three Foster’s terns and one buff-breasted sandpiper.
Larry Hepler watched two black-billed cuckoos cavorting around his Quansoo feeder on Sept. 6. Matt Pelikan spotted a green-winged teal at the State Forest Headquarters pond the same day.
Jennifer and Ken Rand’s baby chickens were terrorized by a bird. They thought it was an eastern kingbird, but I am pretty sure it was a sharp-shinned hawk as kingbirds are insect-eaters and hawks are meat-eaters.
Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-627-4922 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her Web site is vineyardbirds2.com.