I swear I saw the bark on that oak tree move; can’t be. Wow, it is a tiny bird. It just flew to the base of a neighboring oak tree trunk. The little tyke blends in so perfectly I can’t see where it is located if it stops moving. Now he’s creeping up and around the trunk. Now I see him, now I don’t. The tree bark brown and white of his back provides him with excellent camouflage. No wonder he can hold onto the bark; look at the length of those toes and claws! He just spread his tail and flashed a rusty red rump. That tail seems to be propping the bird in place when he sits still. When he moves the tail is a quasi-anchor which, along with his claws, keeps him on the trunk as he wanders around the tree trunk in a spiral pattern. Now what? He just jumped backwards, stopped and is poking his down-curved bill into a crevice in the bark. He has something in his bill which looks like a caterpillar. That was eaten in a big hurry. Now what is he doing? He is upside down under that branch. I can see the tail feathers well and they are very stiff. There he goes again flying to another tree farther away.
What I saw fits the description of a brown creeper. The creeper is about five inches long and bears long slender wings which are close to eight inches in length. Males and females look alike. They can be found on the Vineyard year-round and were first found nesting in the state forest in 1975. Brown creepers range from the Atlantic to the Pacific in the U.S. and up the Pacific Coast into Canada and Alaska. Some migrate south and spend winters in Florida, Mexico and as far south as Nicaragua.
Mature coniferous or hardwood forests or swampy woodlands are the brown creeper’s habitat of choice. The creepers start courtship and nesting as early as March. Courtship completed, the hammock-shaped nest is constructed of shredded bark and mosses lined with preferably duck or other feathers. The eggs, usually five or six in number, are incubated for 14 days. Two weeks later the young fledge.
One of my fondest memories is from one fall when I was on the Gay Head Cliffs overlook watching warblers and other dickie birds fly in from offshore. Suddenly the man next to me exclaimed that there was a brown creeper on my leg. Sure enough, the exhausted tyke landed on the first solid object he saw as he came ashore — a brown pant leg.
Luanne Johnson reports a brown creeper regularly feeding on her North Tisbury maple tree.
Back on Jan. 24 Roy Riley of West Tisbury e-mailed to say he had put up two bird feeders and has been seeing an immature red-tailed hawk perched in a nearby cedar tree most mornings. In his back field he has counted up to eight eastern bluebirds and a northern mockingbird that has claimed a red berry bush for his own in Roy’s yard.
Roy and Matt Pelikan both have had common grackles in their yards recently. Matt added that his grackle was squawking from a tree in his Oak Bluffs yard. Is that a way to attract a mate? I thought squawking happened after you had your mate.
Lee Smith noticed that there was no mention of eastern flickers in the bird news and reported that there were some pecking in the ground in her Franklin street, Vineyard Haven, yard on Feb. 1.
Kitty Burke noticed on Feb. 3 that the crows in Turkeyland Cove on Edgartown Great Pond were going wild. Twenty in number, they were picking up huge crabs from the sides of the frozen great pond. Kitty added that it was very funny to see a crow up in a tree trying to eat a big wiggly crab in a high wind. Eventually they discovered the meal was easier to “pick” on the ice. This murder of crows returned to terrorize Kitty’s lawn, garden dump and bird feeder on Feb. 7.
John Nelson, a science teacher at the regional high school, reported an American oystercatcher by the Big Bridge on State Beach on Feb. 3. On the outer beach he counted four horned larks and by his classroom there were three bluebirds flying down from a tree to feed. The following day the oystercatcher was still in the same area eating the creatures that inhabit slipper shells. John also counted three horned grebes in the Oak Bluffs harbor.
Dr. and Mrs. Riley called in to say they had seen a flock of 20 American robins on Feb. 3 in their Edgartown yard. The robins stayed for two days and then flew on. The Rileys mentioned they had a similar occurrence last year, but later in the season. Can we hope that spring is on the way? Dan Waters thinks so. As Dan was watching a male American goldfinch on his Christiantown feeder he noticed a bright yellow feather and proclaimed: “Goldfinch with a glimmer of hope. I know one feather doth not a springtime make, but at this point we’ll settle for what we can get!”
Tom Rivers spotted a black vulture over the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury on Feb. 5 and mentioned that he has been seeing a gray catbird on Tea Lane for three weeks.
Lanny McDowell noted that the Eurasian wigeon is still at the Oak Bluffs pumping station along with several black-crowned night herons coming into breeding plumage, several yellow-rumped warblers, a winter wren and a singing red-winged blackbird on Feb. 6. The next day Charlie Tucy spotted his first red-winged blackbird of the season at his Eastville feeder. And Suzan Bellincampi reports a red-winged blackbird at the Felix Neck feeder and a black-crowned night heron at the waterfowl pond. She also had a visit from a male purple finch. Keith Jackson watched with amazement as a sharp-shinned hawk took a bath in his koi pond on Feb. 7.
Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird hotline at 508-645-2913 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II.