The bird is a very small one, measuring around five inches. In flight one cannot help but notice its long seven-inch wingspan. Well camouflaged for its choice of habitat, this bird creeps around tree trunks, has a brown back speckled with white, a tail and rump the color of an old-fashioned brick and a white belly.
The ID of this bird is a brown creeper. This is a hard bird to find due to its inconspicuous coloration, and for those with impaired hearing, its high-pitched song and call. The brown creeper’s song has been described as “high, sibilant tsee notes that are easily missed.” The call has been compared with the tinkle of a small chain being dropped into a heap. Although both the male and female brown creepers utter their calls any time of the year, it is only on the nesting grounds that one hears the male brown creeper sing. He continues to sing throughout the total breeding season and stops only after the young creepers have fledged.
Although brown creepers are found on the Vineyard year round, I know that the first and to my knowledge the only nest of a brown creeper found on the Vineyard was in 1975 in the state forest. I had heard from Penny Uhlendorf and Scott Stephens that they had heard brown creepers and watched them carrying nesting material in 2009 at Pilot Hill and then again about three weeks ago. I also had heard that Matt Pelikan was still hearing a brown creeper singing near the TNC office off Lambert’s Cove Road. I planted a seed to see if Penny and Scott might be able to find a brown creeper nest. This is no small feat as the hammock-shaped nest is small and is located behind a piece of peeling tree bark. The female does all the nest construction while the male sits on his perch and sings. Hmm, there is something wrong with this picture! The female brown creeper glues strips of bark and twigs together with spider egg cases and cocoons. The hammock-shaped nest is lined with feathers, lichens, mosses and other comfy materials found in the wild. The pointed ends of the hammock nest are glued behind the tree bark. Oh, I did find one record of an off-Island brown creeper that built her nest behind a piece of tin under the roof of an outhouse!
It was nice to discover that brown creeper males not only feed the females while they incubate the eggs for 15 days, but they also help feed the young creepers until they fledge.
So with their good ears and eyes the Ulendorf/Stevens pair went into an area in the Phillips Preserve where they had heard and seen brown creepers and, bingo, they found two brown creepers working the area. The birds were entering and leaving a probable nest site in a horizontal crack 30 feet up the trunk of a dead pitch pine.
I owe a huge apology to many who have called into the bird hotline, and in particular John Nelson. I have not been able to access the line due to a Verizon upgrade. I have now mastered it and so please keep using the bird hotline at 508-645-2913.
Old sightings from the hotline include a May 3 call from Dale Carter who thinks she had a mourning/white-winged dove cross and wishes that other birders on Chappaquiddick would keep their eyes open for this bird. She saw it at her feeder near the Dyke Bridge. Then on May 25, Dale spotted a snowy egret by the Dyke Bridge.
On May 4 Steve Miller counted six willets at the Cow Bay end of Sengekontacket Pond and his wife Christiana had an eastern towhee in their Edgartown yard. On the same date Richard Regen spotted a brown thrasher at Squibnocket.
On May 8 Suzie Bowman reported from Felix Neck that the first belted kingfisher of the season was spotted, as was a great egret and a female northern harrier. The red phase screen owl is still in the wood duck box.
Linda and Don Sibley spotted their male Baltimore oriole at their Tisbury home on May 11. They immediately put out an orange and 24 hours later the female arrived. The Sibleys have discovered that the male oriole comes to the orange first and then the female. They wonder if others have had the same experience. It seems to be the pattern when we put out and orange.
John Nelson counted 36 brant in Oak Bluffs, and two great egrets and three willets along Sengekontacket Pond on May 12. He counted 106 black-bellied plovers, two killdeer and one upland sandpiper at the Farm Institute. Then over at Crystal Lake he spotted the leucistic song sparrow that was later reported by Bob Blacklow, Rob Culbert and Catherine Deese, and photographed by Lanny McDowell.
On May 16 Jean August reported a Blackburnian warbler that had hit the window of her Seven Gates home.
Myron Garfinkle had a bobwhite at Scrubby Neck and heard a prairie warbler in the state forest on May 22.
Pete Gilmore heard and saw an olive-sided flycatcher on the Hopps Farm Road in West Tisbury on May 28, and he has eastern bluebirds, black-capped chickadees and tree swallows nesting in the array of bird boxes in his yard. The same day Jeff O’Sullivan sent photos of both great egrets and a male ring-necked pheasant from a spot near Mink Meadows in Tisbury. Then on May 30 Pete found a black tern in breeding plumage, three black skimmers and a salt marsh sparrow at Norton Point. The next day Warren Woessner joined Pete at Norton Point and they saw nine species of shorebirds, including short-billed dowitcher and a family of two adult and three very young American oystercatcher chicks. The skimmers were skimming!
Bob Shriber found a northern gannet, all three species of scoter, a single great cormorant, and both red-throated and common loons off Gay Head on May 28. The only migrant warbler he spotted was a blackpoll, although he spotted all our nesting warblers in Aquinnah. Meanwhile Bob’s wife Mary Lou was in the house with the screen door open and the next thing she knew, an eastern phoebe was keeping her company. She opened all the doors and windows and the bird eventually flew out, but not before leaving several deposits!
Michael Ditchfield photographed a green heron on the Menemsha breakwater, Lobsterville side, on May 31.
Rob Culbert’s Bird Walk on June 1 was at Duarte’s Pond off Lambert’s Cove Road. They heard a least flycatcher and spotted a wood pewee and many red-eyed vireos. Down at the Lagoon off the Tisbury Marketplace they spotted three laughing gulls. Laura Wainwright and Whit Griswold had the pleasure of watching a pair of bobwhite in their Lambert’s Cove yard on June 1. Linda Mariano has heard whip-poor-wills almost nightly since the end of May near her Edgartown home.
An addendum to the osprey information reported previously: Dick Jennings and Dave Kolb found a female osprey from a nest at Quitsa tangled in a plastic bag. Luckily she was able to rid herself of the bag. This is a good time to remind people to be aware of where you throw your trash. And sad news from Martha Moore on Tisbury Great Pond. It seems the ospreys have abandoned their nest after the horrendous rains.
On another note, Tom and Barbara Rivers have a shallow frog/goldfish pond in their backyard and watched with shock as an osprey came over, dove in and captured two of their goldfish!
Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-645-2913 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Susan B. Whiting is the coauthor of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her website is vineyardbirds2.com.