A warbler seen in the Phillips Preserve and a thrush spotted in the Gay Head Moraine are members of groups of birds I have always had trouble distinguishing between. The Connecticut warbler is one of three warblers that are tough to separate. The other two are the Nashville warbler and the mourning warbler. The MacGillivray’s warbler is also a look-alike, but is a western species never seen on the Vineyard and, to my knowledge, only five times in Massachusetts. The last time was in 2009 in Boston.
Okay, so my problem is all these warblers have yellow bellies, green backs and gray hoods. The differences are slight — the Nashville has a yellow throat and not a full hood; the mourning lacks a white eye ring; and the MacGillivray’s (if we ever see one) has a split eye ring. Thanks to Lanny McDowell’s photo of the Connecticut warbler, we see a full white eye ring and a full gray hood. The different field marks are tough to see when working on a bird that is jumping around in a bush and no camera is available.
The Swainson’s thrush seen and photographed in the Gay Head Moraine by Ken Magnuson is one of six thrushes that can be very confusing. The Bicknell’s thrush has never been seen on the Vineyard and really can be separated from the other thrushes and in particular from the most similar gray-cheeked thrush only by song. That leaves the veery, the gray-checked, wood and hermit thrushes to separate. The wood thrush, with its rusty red back and huge black breast spots on a white belly, is pretty easy to ID. The veery tends to be rusty of back as well, but more subdued rust. It has no black spots. The hermit, gray-cheeked and Swainson’s thrushes all have gray backs. The hermit thrush can be identified by its rusty tail (if you can see it) and a buff eye ring. That leaves the gray-cheeked and Swainson’s thrushes, which are the worst to separate. Again the ol’ eye ring comes into play. The Swainson’s thrush has a bold eye ring where the gray-checked has an incomplete and indistinct eye ring. Cameras really help with the ID’s. It is always a challenge to separate these devils and get it right with just a pair of binoculars.
Sept. 28, 29 and 30 were magical days for Vineyard birders. Obviously the wind was perfect to bring a smattering of interesting migrants to our Island. On Sept. 28, Barbara Pesch, Marianne Thomas, Carole Miller and I spotted our first of the fall/winter yellow-rumped warblers (seven of them) at Gay Head. We also found a Lincoln’s sparrow, three sharp-shinned and a Cooper’s hawk, a merlin and three northern harriers, including one nice adult male “gray ghost,” as they are called. At Lobsterville we added nine great egrets, a greater yellowlegs and another northern harrier.
We ran into Ken Magnuson, camera in hand, at Gay Head. He had also seen yellow-rumped warblers, Blackpoll warbler and house wren. Ken continued on to the Gay Head Moraine and found and photographed a marvelous mix of bird species that included a brown creeper, ovenbird, immature red-headed woodpecker and Swainson’s thrush. The next day Ken photographed a stunning Cooper’s hawk on Lighthouse Road.
At Katama Mike Ditchfield found and photographed a palm warbler on Sept. 28. Jeff Bernier found two solitary sandpipers and two greater yellowlegs at the pond along the Takemmy Trail near Sweetened Water Farm in Edgartown. He photographed all!
Rob Culbert found a sharp-shinned hawk, red-breasted nuthatches, black and white and pine warblers, common yellowthroat and both hairy and downy woodpeckers between Tradewinds Park and the Oak Bluffs School on Sept. 29.
John Nelson and Jan Rapp counted 12 great egrets in the West Basin marsh on Sept. 29 and noted, as many of us have, a large flock of blue jays at Gay Head. John commented that there are still large numbers of sanderlings on State Beach in Oak Bluffs. Earlier in the day Lanny counted 16 great egrets in the same Aquinnah marsh and added his first of the season purple finch and yellow-rumped warblers, which he spotted and photographed at Gay Head.
The bird of the week was seen and photographed on Sept. 30, a Connecticut warbler that Lanny McDowell found in the Sheriff’s Meadow’s Phillips Preserve in Tisbury. Amazingly, last year Lanny and Pete Gilmore found a Connecticut warbler within a few feet of the spot where Lanny saw it this year.
Brown thrashers were seen on Sept. 25. Barbara Pesch had one around her Chilmark home. Allan Keith, Lanny McDowell and I spotted one in Gay Head by the Homestead the same day. Other birds Allan, Lanny and I spotted included four house wrens, an indigo bunting, a dark-eyed junco, two golden-crowned kinglets, a tufted titmouse, and black and white, Blackpoll and prairie warblers. Lanny and I continued down Lighthouse Road where we spotted two Cape May warblers. At Quansoo Flip Harrington and I spotted a belted kingfisher and a great egret along Tisbury Great Pond.
In the middle of the Island at the Martha’s Vineyard airport, Bob Cassity spotted a swallow-tailed kite on Sept. 25. Jeff Bernier photographed dunlin along the shores of Katama Bay the same day.
Flip Harrington, while catching bluefish between Zack’s and Squibnocket on Sept. 26, reported huge numbers of tree swallows hawking insects over the water. He also said the numbers of black and white-winged scoters are increasing off Squibnocket. Back at Quansoo, Flip and I spotted one golden plover in with three black-bellied plovers on Big Sandy in Tisbury Great Pond. A northern harrier was hunting the dunes and a great egret and great blue heron were along the shore of Flat Point Farm. In Tisbury, Luanne Johnson had a black and white warbler working on a tree outside her study window.
Carole Miller, Lanny McDowell and I birded Norton Point on Sept. 27. Our best bird was a lesser black-backed gull. Other birds of note included a merlin and incredible numbers of sanderlings. At the Farm Institute we picked up a golden plover in with black-bellied plovers and eight killdeer. Larry Hepler, Flip Harrington and I spotted two greater yellowlegs and a belted kingfisher at Quansoo on Sept. 30.
Rob Bierregaard’s new website ospreytrex.com answered a couple of questions I received this week. Leigh Smith called to remark there were still two ospreys on Sept. 25 at Mink Meadows and Mary York was surprised to see an osprey at Nashawena Park in Oak Bluffs on Sept. 29. Rob’s website suggests that the osprey we are seeing now are males and juveniles that are moving down from points north, primarily Canada. I should remind you that the female ospreys are no fools; they left for their winter vacation as soon as their chicks fledged in August.
If you want more information on the location of all the juvenile ospreys, visit Rob’s website. I was sorry to hear that Caleb, one of the youngsters from Chappaquiddick, died offshore just short of the Bahamas. All the rest of the Vineyard ospreys except Cpt. Liz are south and out of the country. Cpt. Liz seems to be stuck in Chatham.
Please report your bird sightings to the Martha’s Vineyard Bird Hotline at 508-645-2913 or e-mail to email@example.com. Susan B. Whiting is the co-author of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her website is vineyardbirds2.com.